In Richter’s (Mating Rituals of Migratory Humans, 2013) dystopian novel, a lowly citizen may be the “Chosen One,” destined to lead a revolution against a government that thrives on fear.
Pat McGewan-X04, a typical American in 2233, is implanted with technology called “Life-force Input and Feedback Equipment,” or “L.I.F.E.,” which gives him immediate access to mood stabilizers and any number of applike “Gizmos” for, say, downloading maps or checking his bank account. It also generates a seemingly endless supply of advertisements, most of which feed off the idea of perpetual terrorist threat. Every citizen submits to weekly audits from such agencies as the Department of Homeland Security and the Fitness Enforcement Agency, which generally result in fines or time in Patriot Rehab. One day Pat knows that something’s very wrong when he wakes up in a hospital; he later learns that he’s the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that killed hundreds of others. But his temporary memory loss isn’t what startles him the most—it’s the fact that he can suddenly hear people’s private L.I.F.E. messages and conversations. After he gets wind of someone called “the Librarian”—a word that Pat doesn’t even know—he heads to the only library that his L.I.F.E. can find, searching for answers as to why he didn’t die with the rest of the victims. Herb, the Librarian, is willing to help, as he’s convinced that Pat’s the one who will expose a government that’s lying to its citizens. Despite this tale’s dismal view of the future, in which a mere opinion can lead to someone’s arrest, Richter manages to inject a great deal of humor into the proceedings. Pat’s biggest fear, for example, is that a jury will punish him by taking away his access to robotic assistance—because then he’d have to learn how to make a sandwich or turn on the laundry unit. There’s curious, often funny tech (such as “slidewalks,” which require little actual walking) and a few twists, although most readers will likely guess what the government’s up to. Most of the satire here has a gloomy residue, though: at first, it seems absurd that Pat doesn’t immediately recognize his wife, but he’s never actually seen her—or their son—in the flesh. Overall, the author’s social commentary speaks of a world where modern conveniences can turn a society into a mass of lonely, isolated people.
A laudable sci-fi yarn that’s both irreverent and relevant.