At the beginning of the 1939 classic film “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy is miserable in the Black & White world of depression-era Kansas. By the time she is swept away by a tornado, her archenemy, Agnes Gulch, has condemned her dog to die. Yet, she spends her entire time in the Land of Oz whining about going home. Why?
Home is more than the roof under which you reside. And it’s more than the comforts you might enjoy there. Home is a place where you are known, respected and loved. It’s a place where your interactions with neighbors and friends are reciprocal. It’s where your beliefs and concerns are shared.
In the dystopian remains of 2049 America, the protagonist of my new book, Diana, has no home to speak of. She’s a military officer and the daughter of a U.S. Air Force general. She has moved around so much that she has no sense of community — of shared concerns with those around her.
Her world offers some stark choices. Life is comfortable, or perhaps luxurious, in the podosphere – 15 walled cities where 90% of the population lives. However, to live there you must have a chip implanted at the base of your neck. It observes your responses to your environment by measuring enzymes and hormones much like the thumbs up or thumbs down button in social media. It also monitors your activities and creates a culture index that determines your future opportunities. It’s Alexa on steroids. It’s Big Brother made real.
Artificial intelligence has taken most low-skill and middle-skill jobs away. First it was truck-drivers and call center operators; then it was accountants and lawyers. Those still able to ply their trades are those who learn to utilize advanced technology: surgeons who can utilize artificial intelligence and nanotechnology and those who can design and implement the new technology.
Those elites are well-paid and living in the lap of luxury. The unemployed are living on Universal Basic Income and scorned by the upper crust.
The alternative isn’t much better. Outside the podosphere, the other 10% lives in squalor. Those left behind are the procrastinators and the misfits, living in deplorable little cities and towns (although most cities and towns have been abandoned).
“The world building in this novel is supreme. It’s 2049, and the Space Force is up and running. Cars drive themselves in efficient, bumper-to-bumper traffic systems. Cryogenics is a thing, and so are advanced medical implants. “There are also scary “advancements” in society such as a Culture Index system (similar to current day China’s) in which the party in power controls how citizens behave by tying their behavior to employment opportunities. Every person is monitored via an unobtrusive implant and/or AI personal assistants. “Perhaps the most notable aspect of Calia’s vision of the future is that the US has taken a bold step into socialism. Sixty percent of the masses live off government-guaranteed income, and forty percent of citizens work, live, and play in upscale, fenced-in pods (city-states) where every pod is its own likeminded tribe. (Like a brick-and-mortar Facebook group.) The income gap has never been bigger, and there is no diversity of thought.”
Diana can’t just click her heels three times to get home. She must evaluate where she might belong. She must evaluate what she must do based on who she has become during the adventure that is the plot of the book. She has been transformed. What lessons has she learned and how should she apply them?
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