A boy is raised to have a perfect life—as defined by a team of corporate scientists—in this strident satire of a near-future dystopia.
In the year 2020, the World Government—its president chosen by the World Economic Forum, its Congress composed of representatives from the 300 highest earning global corporations—adopts newborn Jimmy Clark as the prototype for its program of offering all citizens a perfect life. He is made handsome by infant cosmetic surgery, raised by a preternaturally nurturing robot, provided with a constant feed of drugs to keep his mood elevated and stable, and sent to Manhattan’s finest private schools to acquire not knowledge but the “skills” indispensable for success: grit, teamwork, data-crunching, and back-stabbing. Jimmy joins an investment firm run by his benefactor, a fundamentalist Christian plutocrat who thinks God and Mammon get along fine, and soon amasses his own business empire, including a company wrapping the planet in an electronically linked supersystem called “the Internet of Things Web.” The only complication in Jimmy’s life is Chelsea, a school sweetheart and dissident in an underground hacktivist group. Despite her rebellious proclivities, the World Government insists she marry Jimmy: “Your role is to support Jimmy’s success and make him happy. If you don’t, you’ll both be vaporized.” The novel’s rickety, absurdist plot and stick-figure characters—Jimmy is a Candide-like naif, Chelsea a doctrinaire romantic—exist mainly as pegs on which to hang Spring’s (Globalization of Education: An Introduction, 2014, etc.) vision of softly totalitarian capitalism that is a lurid extension of current trends. The colorful world features driverless cabs, unctuous artificial intelligence, custom-flavored synthetic food, and inescapable video surveillance, even during sex. Plastic forests feature animatronic fauna, and a global water vendor pollutes rivers and lakes so locals will have to buy its products. Substituting for happiness are drugs and an ethos of “shoppiness”: artificially induced dream fantasies bring crowds stampeding into malls. Among the bogus claims of convenience and personal empowerment, Spring’s spoof of consumer culture is often funny, and there’s an Orwellian verve to his prose: “If it wasn’t for your mother, we would reeducate you at the We Love You Farm.” But his dystopia feels less like a prophetic cautionary tale than a compendium of Occupier paranoias, with victims who are too robotic themselves to really care about.
A vigorous, sometimes-entertaining, but unconvincing tale of future imperfect.