It seems appropriate for me to kick off this year’s participation in Scifi Month by reading the book I won during last year’s Scifi Month: Implanted by Lauren C Teffeau – the first thing I have ever won, and which I am still very excited about one year later (it’s even signed by the author – squeee).
I have a soft spot for stories set in enclosed societies. I don’t know quite what it is that appeals to me about these worlds in miniature, but if the planet’s gone to hell in a handcart and survivors are living underground or in an orbiting space station, or under a glass dome as in Implanted, then I’m already halfway to loving the story that follows. And Teffeau’s creation is pretty cool. The city of New Worth, instead of sprawling outwards across a damaged, poisoned Earth, extends upwards as far as its glass dome will allow, and its class structure follows suit. The Echelon and the Canopy, the highest levels of the city, are where the government operates from and where the wealthy make their homes. The Understory is the middle-class layer and the gloomy Terrestrial District at the bottom of the pile houses the working class. Later we learn that there is also an Underground, where the malcontents make their homes. All that said, this class structure is not rigid – people can ascend and descend because of money, smarts and tech. There is a thriving economy, there is tourism, crime, entertainment arcades, competing news channels, designer clothes and rip-off copies. Teffeau creates a satisfyingly realistic city that feels city-sized, with all the variety that that entails.
Emery Driscoll, our POV and kick-ass heroine, grew up in the Terrestrial District, but thanks to her parents’ hard work and her own smarts she is, at the start of the story, a final year student at the College of New Worth in the Canopy. She’s chosen a safe degree that will guarantee her work so that she can get her parents out of the Terrestrial District too, she has a cute and bubbly bestie and just maybe she has a boyfriend lined up. Everything is looking promising, almost rosy, until Emery gets blackmailed into becoming a super-secret courier for the possibly sinister company Aventine.
Let’s take a moment, shall we?
So, yeah, this is all pretty standard fare so far. I can think of a bunch of books on the library shelves (looking at you Young Adult section) that have virtually this same set-up, give or take a detail. And I have to admit that when the potential boyfriend showed up in Chapter 2, I rolled my eyes and settled down to be unimpressed. But … amidst some fairly predictable (but still very exciting) thriller stuff, Teffeau also examines where our love of smartphones may take us. And this is what I’d really like to talk about, instead of just giving you a run down of characters and events and reactions.
Most people in New Worth have an implant. It’s received around the age of eleven and it’s essentially like having your smartphone in your head. With your implant you are connected to your family and your friends as much or as little as you want to be. You can communicate telepathically (for want of a better word), with or without emotional bleed as you choose. There is a visual overlay so you can bring up maps when you’re lost and can see the news as it happens. You can augment your vision if it’s dark, you can turn down the sound of the world around you, you can live entirely in your own head. So instead of everyone walking around with their heads bowed over their phones, we have a city full of people doing weird things with their eyes (implants are controlled with eye movement), which at least means a lot less bumping into one another.
Some people, called Disconnects, choose (or have been forced) to have their implants removed. They live in the Terrestrial District and the Underground because not being connected to the network means that they cannot apply for a lot of jobs, won’t be considered for a lot of housing, and are invisible to a lot of people. They are distrusted by most of the city’s inhabitants, as minorities often are and are given risky, low-paid work.
The thing is, being implanted is only an advantage within the dome. And everyone in the city, implanted or not, knows that they are only living in New Worth until their regeneration efforts outside reach tipping point and the day of Emergence arrives, when everyone can live outside in the fresh air again. And, sure, it’s been a long hard slog, but it looks like Emergence is within reach.
Which makes me think of where we’re at right now. Computer illiteracy is something I come across every single day. Local councils like the one I work for, for example, are pushing people to use online services instead of face-to-face or telephone services as they cut back on staff in response (at least in part) to severe budget cuts. In the library we deal with many frustrated people who now can’t access services they have a right to because of their lack of knowledge. These people didn’t choose to be ‘disconnected’ and they have many different attitudes. Some are belligerent and feel they shouldn’t have to learn something new and difficult in order to do something they used to be able to do with ease. Some are terrified and feel out of their depth, confused and unable to catch up. We’re in a weird place in time where people with little or no computer knowledge are becoming second-class citizens and I am afraid for them.
On the other hand, the people who are hyper-tech-literate are becoming a different class in and of themselves. And then there are the people who can navigate a smart phone or a tablet with ease, but are utterly stumped when faced with a PC or laptop.
We’re in a weird place in time.
Me? I love my smartphone. I love that I can check my emails with it, can take photos with it and post them on Instagram, can read blogs during my lunch break, or search for pictures, or find out what’s on at the cinema and what’s on the menu at the nearest place to eat. (I don’t love Twitter yet, but it’s possible I will in time). And sure, it’s good to be able to text or phone friends and family as and when too.
But I also love turning it off or leaving it at home.
Anyhow, back to Implanted. This is a good scifi thriller. It’s a smidge predictable in places, and the potential boyfriend was a sulky, scowling sort (I will never understand what’s attractive about grumpy men), but the big conspiracy thing at the heart of it was satisfyingly meaty. And there is always plenty to love about shadowy organisations that blackmail people into working for them and then fake the deaths of said people and give them new identities and cool kit and train them to kick ass even better than they did before. In twelve words or less: A fun read with some interesting and non-judgemental things to say.
Mini rant, unconnected to Teffeau’s book: I wrote this in the newest update of Microsoft Word and got mighty pissed off with the new ‘conciseness’ feature. I write like I speak (without all the ums and ahs) because I find it easier to get my thoughts down that way, because I love the sound of my own voice, and because I’m not writing an essay or an article here. If I had followed all the little conciseness advisories I got while writing this, it’d be the flattest, saddest thing I’d ever written. On the upside, it’d be a heck of a lot shorter. Concise, even.