Spoiler alert: I give away events unfolding in Kelly's story. It appeared in the March 2014 edition of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
"Declaration" is a thought provoking extrapolation of existing trends. In the style of Spinrad, I will use this review as an excuse to jump up on a soapbox and deliver my own opinions.
In this tale more and more people are dwelling in softtime. Softime is what today's internet might evolve into, a shared online virtual reality. Depending on sophistication of interface, the virtual reality can be fully immerseive.
A significant part of the population are severely disabled and can't interact with the world using their meat bodies. These disabled people are known as stash. They are more or less stashed in coffin like life support cubicles.
The government mandates that everyone spend an allotted time in hardtime, a.k.a. reality. Stash revolutionaries want to spend all of their existence in softtime. The story title Declaration refers to the revolutionaries' Declaration of Independence. They want to sever their connections with the real world.
But would the revolutionaries become independent of hardtime? In Kelly's story, that's not clear. Are the stashed people dependent parasites or do they provide services and do meaningful work? Robots are ubiquitous in the story but I get the impression machines haven't fully replaced humans. There still seems to be need for meat to interact with the world to maintain infrastructure and take care of business. For example the main character turns her stash brother to prevent bed sores, even though the brother has a carebot.
Primitive versions of these interfaces already exist. For example motion capture sensors control virtual puppets in movies like Shrek or Avatar, as well as virtual avatars in computer games. Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis has implanted a Brain Machine Interface into the cortex of monkeys that they've used to control virtual avatars.
From inner space back to outer space
Virtual avatars aren't the only puppets controllable by motion capture or brain machine interface. Nicolelis' monkeys have also used their cerebral implants to control remote robotic arms. A paralyzed person using a Nicolelis exosuit did the opening kick in the 2014 World Soccer Cup. Surgeons use motion capture sensors to operate surgical telerobots.
Kelly's story has robots as well as a sophisticated brain machine interface. Given telerobots, exosuits, and robotic prosthetics, the boundary between hardtime and softtime blurs. There are hard as well as soft avatars.
Telerobots are becoming major game changers. They are
doing work in places too hard to reach or dangerous for humans. British
Petroleum uses them to build oil drilling infrastructure on the
seafloor. Planetary Resources hopes to use them to mine the asteroids.
Paul Spudis and Bill Stone hope to use robots to prospect and establish
mining infrastructure on the moon.
Kelly is correct a severely disabled person would want to use a Brain Machine Interface every waking hour whereas a healthy person only a fraction of the time. I believe the severely disabled will be the most practiced users of telerobots. They could be the most intrepid explorers, the most able builders, the heroes of a coming age.
Fashions in Science Fiction
A Brain Machine Interface story from yesteryear was Anne McCaffrey's hopeful and uplifting The Ship That Sang. More recently we have Kelly's bleak dystopia Declaration.
Kelly's story has a lot of currently fashionable themes: overpopulation, terrorism, limited resources, alienation, inevitable decay. More often than not modern SF is gloom and doom exploring catastrophic failure modes of technology. Such storites are worthwhile, we should certainly try to anticipate and avoid possible calamities.
But we also need stories exploring technology's potential for good. I yearn for a return to tales about new frontiers and the triumph of human spirit over adversity.
We need hopeful as well as cautionary tales. Without hope there is no reason to get up in the morning.