Tales of a dystopian near-future

It’s often said that science fiction is not so much a forecast of the future as a mirror of concerns about the times in which it is written.  That is most certainly true of Cory Doctorow’s new book, RADICALIZED: Four tales of our present moment.

The title story is the most powerful and disturbing of the four.  It is about an on-line community of men who’ve been denied, or whose loved-ones have been denied, insurance coverage for treatable cancer, and who, one by one, decide to take revenge.

The first engages in a suicide bombing at a Blue Cross / Blue Shield office to avenge the death of his six-year-old daughter.  The second is a widower who kills a Senator who ran in a platform of health care for all, then voted against Medicare expansion.

The third is the elderly moderator of the forum, who has been subtly encouraging the bombings and killings.  He wheels his wheelchair into the middle of a health insurance conference at a Sheraton before setting off a home-made bomb that blows away himself and a sizable percentage of the guests.

Their objective is not just revenge, but health care reform.  They think that the power of fear may be enough to overcome the power of money.

Joe, the protagonist, joined the on-line forum when he was in despair about his wife not being able to get an “experimental” treatment that would cure her breast cancer.  She turns out to be a lucky one who has a spontaneous remission, but he stays on the forum, arguing against suicide and violence on private lines

He realizes that he is guilty of a crime simply by being aware that crimes are being planned and not reporting it to the police.  But he can’t bring himself to do this.

“Health care terrorism” spreads.  There’s more security at HMO and insurance company offices than at airports.  People who are denied insurance claims are put on terrorist watch lists.  But bombings and killings continue.  And Joe realizes it’s only a matter of time before Homeland Security catches up with him.

The conclusion is that a lot of people, including bystanders, have been killed, but Congress has enacted something called Americare.  Joe’s wife, visiting him in prison, remarks, “Who says violence doesn’t solve anything?

In another story, “Unauthorized Bread,” an immigrant named Salima, living in subsidized housing, has a toaster and dishwasher and other appliances that are connected to the Internet, and only accept certain brands of bread and dishware.

When the manufacturer goes bankrupt, her toaster and dishwasher cease to function at all.  She responds by engaging in illegal “jailbreaking”—obtaining illegal software to reprogram the toaster and dishwasher to accept whatever she puts into it.

Then she learns that a new company has acquired the manufacturer, restarted the service and hired a cyber security firm to track down and prosecute all the “jailbreakers” for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

In “Model Minority,” a superhero born on another planet intervenes to stop policemen from beating up a black man.  He finds that while fighting criminals and supervillains made him a champion of truth, justice and the American way, interfering with the police makes him an enemy alien.  He also finds that the National Security Agency has more superpowers than he does.

The black man tells him that he has been naive to think that an extraterrestrial can be not only human, but American and also white.  He tells the superhero that his humanity, nationality and racial status exist through social consensus and can be taken away at any time.

In “The Masque of the Red Death,” a billionaire creates a hideaway stocked with food, weapons and the necessities of life so that he and his friends will be able to survive during social collapse.

The social order does collapse, and for a while it seems as if he has made a good decision.  But the inhabitants of Fort Doom become bored with their life and resentful of each other.  They’re become less able to replenish their food supplies through hunting and scavenging, the septic tank fills up and then they’re struck by a mysterious disease.

You will not enjoy these stories if you turn to science fiction for escape literature (not that there’s anything wrong with escape literature).


Cory Doctorow’s craphound.com | Cory Doctorow’s Literary Works.

Cory Doctorow | Boing Boing.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: