I love a good dystopian science fiction, even more so if it’s relevant. One can surely empathize with the participants of the Hunger Games, or the poor, oppressed Reds in Red Rising, but when our daily life is the subject, that is even more powerful. This is why I’m such a big fan of Black Mirror, even though I’m pretty much shitting my pants after every episode.
Black Mirror is a British science fiction anthology television series created by Charlie Brooker. It examines modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. Episodes are standalone, usually set in an alternative present or the near future, often with a dark and satirical tone. Brooker developed Black Mirror to highlight topics related to humanity’s dependency on technology, creating stories that feature “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” (Wikipedia)
In the first two seasons especially, there was a great emphasis on social media use and its effect on people. What you share about yourself, and how it’s used after you are gone. Imagine if you could talk to a dead relative or loved one, and it was done with an algorithm, based on what they shared online. Would you do it? Is it really them?
Or what if anything you can achieve in this life is based on your rating on a social media app? If you are popular enough, you could live in the fanciest house, get the best treatment wherever you go, and it’s all decided on how your peers rate you. I’m stressed out just thinking about this.
What if you could record every moment of your life? Or have the ability to filter out unpleasant encounters? Aren’t those moments what eventually help shape us into who we are?
Privacy, and how far would you go to invade it, in the name of keeping someone safe.
I’m not technophobe, far from it. I love having the ability to carry the internet around in my pocket, or to download thousands of books on a single device. That said, I’m also glad I was born and turned into a grown up before Facebook became a thing. I sure as hell don’t want to come across my childhood pictures plastered over any social media for anyone’s entertainment.
Now that all the episodes are out (and most likely already binged), like me, you might need some books to fill Black Mirror shaped void. After some digging, these are the books I picked that might help soothe those cravings.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains. For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Glen Runciter runs a lucrative business—deploying his teams of anti-psychics to corporate clients who want privacy and security from psychic spies. But when he and his top team are ambushed by a rival, he is gravely injured and placed in “half-life,” a dreamlike state of suspended animation. Soon, though, the surviving members of the team begin experiencing some strange phenomena, such as Runciter’s face appearing on coins and the world seeming to move backward in time. As consumables deteriorate and technology gets ever more primitive, the group needs to find out what is causing the shifts and what a mysterious product called Ubik has to do with it all.
Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2) by Greg Egan
The story of a man with a vision – immortality : for those who can afford it is found in cyberspace. Permutation city is the tale of a man with a vision – how to create immortality – and how that vision becomes something way beyond his control. Encompassing the lives and struggles of an artificial life junkie desperate to save her dying mother, a billionaire banker scarred by a terrible crime, the lovers for whom, in their timeless virtual world, love is not enough – and much more – Permutation city is filled with the sense of wonder.
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.
Blind Faith by Ben Elton
As Trafford Sewell struggles to work through the usual crowds of commuters, he is confronted by the intimidating figure of his priest, full of accusatory questions. Why has Trafford not been streaming his every moment of sexual intimacy onto the community website like everybody else? Does he think he’s different or special in some way? Does he have something to hide? Imagine a world where everyone knows everything about everybody. Where what a person “feels” and “truly believes” is protected under the law, while what is rational, even provable, is condemned as heresy. A world where to question ignorance and intolerance is to commit a crime against Faith. Ben Elton’s dark, savagely comic novel imagines a postapocalyptic society where religious intolerance combines with a confessional sex-obsessed, self-centric culture to create a world where nakedness is modesty, ignorance is wisdom, and privacy is a dangerous perversion. A chilling vision of what’s to come, or something rather close to what we call reality?
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society’s white knight.
The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin
It is the year 2004. Violent Crime is the number one political issue in America. Now the Swift and Sure Anti-Crime bill guarantees a previously convicted violent criminal one fair trial, one quick plea, then immediate execution. To prevent abuse of the law, a machine must be built that detects lies with 100% accuracy.
Once perfected, the truth machine will change the face of the world. Yet the race to finish the Truth Machine forces one man to commit a shocking act of treachery, burdening him with a dark secret that collides with everything he believes in. Now he must conceal the the truth from his own creation…or face execution.
Little Brother (Little Brother #1) by Cory Doctorow
Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.
Fluence by Stephen Oram
Imagine a world where your influence on social media determines your job, your home and your friends. A world without politicians, where the corporations run the country.
Set in a dystopian London, Fluence is a story of aspiration and desperation and of power seen and unseen. Amber is young and ambitious. Martin is burnt out by years of struggling. She cheats to get what she wants while he barely clings on to what he has.
It’s the week before the annual Pay Day when strata positions are decided by the algorithms. The social media feed is frenetic with people trying to boost their influence rating, while those above the strata and those who’ve opted out pursue their own manipulative goals.
To what extremes, and at what cost to their families, should Amber and Martin go to achieve the Fluence they desire?
Have you read any of them? Which one do you think will make it to your TBR?