In Diehl’s (Vida Nocturna, 2011) series starter, set in a future of environmental collapse and grotesque wealth inequality, a fugitive waitress becomes caught up in an uprising.
Earth has a population of 17 billion and weather gone haywire, and many plant and animal species have gone extinct. Rather than rejecting the practices that brought about this dire scenario, civilization instead doubled down on brutal capitalism, and avaricious companies now control society. Most people submit to corporate-run schools, genetic modification, corporate-dictated living arrangements, and even a profitable living death—elderly people are kept on life support so that their brains can crunch numbers for corporations. Various characters find themselves on the wrong side of corporations’ wrath, pursued by genetically modified, or “Golden,” federal agents, aka “Angels.” Eadie, a downtrodden teenage waitress, was born into a Golden family who lost their “Status” when she was a child. Student Lawrence Williams VII, a scion of a top corporate family, rescues her from being raped by vicious Goldens, and the pair become fugitives in “the Zone,” a gang-infested territory of outcasts and rebels. Their fellow outlaws include a humane doctor who may be very last “Negro,” as multiple characters call him; and an addict, Brian Fouts, who’s possessed by Sato Motomichi, a hotheaded, fifth-century Japanese samurai warrior. Sato has been tasked by the “Life Force” to atone for his past by fighting to overthrow the current regime and protect “the General”—Eadie, who many have decided is a messiah. There is, in fact, a “book of Eadie”—a stolen, spiral-bound notebook that radicalizes her after she reads it; its pages are filled with the subversive, anti-corporate journaling of a Golden named Eric. As Eadie and her friends fight for their lives, Eric undergoes brainwashing regimens that turn him into a faithful business drone.
Diehl begins a sci-fi trilogy that treads familiar territory, but it’s impressive how he’s thought through its nasty world of tomorrow in detail. The continual atrocities and street warfare can be numbing, though, and Brian/Sato’s threatening inner monologue gets repetitious: “The more I talk to you this way, asshole, the more I want to open up your skull....Do you dare assume I’m awed by your power?” Indeed, Brian’s possession by Sato is a story element that may not appeal to all readers. The titular Eadie also proves to be one of the novel’s least interesting personalities. That said, Diehl should be commended just for successfully keeping all the balls in the air in this futuristic narrative. Although two more series installments are forthcoming, he wraps up enough loose ends by the end of this one to make it a satisfactory, if incredibly grim, stand-alone story. Diehl writes in an afterword that he believes that mankind will reach a state of mass conformity and emerge as a “corporate species.” However, this cautionary depiction of such a world makes clear that it would not be one worth living in.
A dark and impressive, if somewhat flawed, novel about an indisputably flawed corporate-dictatorship future.