Alberts (The Battery Man, 2013) envisions a bleak future in which the rich may legally buy the poor like cattle.
In 2068, life for average Americans has never been worse. Gun ownership is illegal, social safety nets are gone, and companies fire employees after a single offense. The desperate masses, in turn, can opt to sell themselves to facilities known as Arcologies. With large payments made to family members, individuals become the property of these towering structures, where, as 21st-century slaves, they exist and die at the pleasure of the superrich. Nothing is off-limits—sex, gladiatorial combat, organ donation, anything. Within the Shinu Arcology, near Chicago, lives a disparate group of enslaved people that includes Mitch, Lisa, Delano, Rick and Alex. Coping with their fates, they make heroic choices that help them succeed against the murderous Arcology. In an experiment, Mitch’s consciousness is transferred into the facility’s computer network. Elsewhere, Lisa is secretly sold as a fighter to a man named Malboq, from whom she learns that the Arcologies are run by the Shinjimori yakuza; he’d like her to help vanquish their global tyranny. But can this assortment of heroes foment revolution before the yakuza punish the rest of the world? Author Alberts brings tremendous energy, imagination and technological smarts to his sprawling narrative. He skilfully weaves multiple character threads into a robust, frightfully believable world. Readers will happily root for Alberts’ heroes since the villainy is so starkly presented; for example, one of the prison guards reminds Lisa, “You do what we want, when we want it, and you don’t ask questions. You’re not a person anymore. You’re a plaything; a pet.” In general, however, Alberts often uses descriptions with three words when one will suffice, so some passages take on a sheen that might exhaust readers, as when “she could no longer contain her own emotions in full, as a wellspring of tears began to fill behind the ineffective levees of her eyelids.” Nevertheless, this lurid, fascinating work will satisfy deep thinkers.
A feverish, demanding story that’s refreshingly new.