Harindranath tells the story of a hero’s quixotic quest to break with his society in this philosophical sci-fi debut.
In 2062, in the country of Utopai, everyone has a guaranteed monthly allowance, a happiness-inducing brain implant, and engrossing virtual reality games to play. Utopai appears to be, for lack of a better word, a utopia. Even so, 50-year-old bookworm Alonso is dissatisfied. He decides to pursue a path of hard work, risk-taking, fame-seeking, and wealth accumulation (things he’s only read about in books), so he rechristens himself “Don Alonso” and disconnects from the artificial-intelligence system that everyone uses. He recruits a reluctant sidekick, Sancho, and they set out to lead lives of self-sufficiency and meaning. They first attempt to invent something and build a business around it, but in Utopai, where AI has reached the level of human intelligence, everything seems to have already been invented, and private corporations no longer exist. Alonso’s strange behavior lands him and Sancho in a mental hospital, where they meet Carl, a fellow patient who explains to them how Utopai got to be the way it is. If Alonso’s dreams are structurally impossible in Utopai, then he seems to have only three choices: give up, escape, or reorganize society under a better model. Harindranath writes in an accessible, if slightly mannered, style. Much of the book is composed of dialogues in which the characters discuss the ideas that underlie the institutions of their world; “We lack meaning in our lives because we are far too dependent on our society, this humongous, unfeeling block of society,” Don Alonso says during one of his long conversations with Carl. “We feel powerless because our hands are tied, because the reality is hidden from us, because we really are powerless.” These intellectual discussions form the novel’s raison d’être, but they come at the expense of a compelling plot and significant character development. The author does address some murky issues of our time, such as many people’s reliance on technology. Still, the novel as a whole doesn’t feel particularly relevant to our present, far-from-utopic moment in history.
A thoughtful, if less than thrilling, novel about what society should be.