Simanaitis Says

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SCI-FI—OR IS IT CHILLINGLY NON-FI?

THERE’S A genre of science fiction that I enjoy, the near-term alternative-world variety. No alien invasions. No collisions of worlds. And no zombies, thank you. Just our own world gone somewhat askew.

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A book review in Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describes such a novel. Albert-László Barabási, its reviewer, identifies this genre as Bordering Fiction. What’s more, the review reminded me of another book I’ll tell you about anon.

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The Circle, A Novel, by Dave Eggers, Knopf/McSweeney’s Books, 2013, reviewed in Science, January 24, 2014. Both www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com list the book.

Eggers posits a near future overseen by The Circle, a combined Amazon/Facebook/Google/Twitter run by the Three Wise Men. (Full marks for guessing who these three are patterned after.)

The goals of The Circle are perfection of society and elimination of crime through complete transparency. As Barabási observes, “… each of their products is a subtle slide toward the 21st Century’s version of Orwell’s 1984—not a world in which a selected few control many but one where everyone monitors everybody.”

The book’s Mae Holland begins her dream job at The Circle only to find herself losing a bit of her privacy—of her self—each day. “Eventually,” writes Barabási, “she becomes the powerful official poster girl of The Circle’s open-book philosophy.”

Barabási concludes the review with comments about Edward Snowdon, the National Security Agency and other relevant matters. He writes, “I have thus stopped believing there is a wall between reality and fairy tales. So I read The Circle not as science fiction but as a case study of a world in which we currently live: a stress test that reboots 1984 for the digitial age.

Max Barry is another author of this genre of chillingly near-non-fictional sci-fi. My favorite of his books is Jennifer Government.

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Jennifer Government, by Max Barry, Doubleday, 2003. Both www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com list it.

Barry’s alternative world contains two familiar entities, the U.S. and the European Union. However, its power structure resides not with these under-budgeted governments, but rather with two utterly dominant consumer-loyalty programs in cut-throat competition, the US Alliance and Team Advantage, and a pair of other organizations, the Police and the NRA.

The US Alliance includes corporate giants IBM, McDonald’s, Nike, Pepsi—and the NRA (which has become a mercenary-for-hire). Team Advantage members include Apple Computer, Burger King, ExxonMobil and the (now privatized) Police.

The book’s title derives from its characters having no identities—nor surnames—other than through their employment. Jennifer Government is an under-paid, over-tasked Field Agent in the Australian Territories. Her ex-lover, John Nike, increases street cred of his company’s new sneakers in a horrific way: by arranging random killings of people attempting to buy the new product.

Billy NRA, Buy Mitsui and Violet ExxonMobil are other characters who get caught up in the madness. Like The Circle, though, it’s only a disturbingly bit skewed from a real world. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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