Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Mandibles: 2047, Chapter 1 (Getting with the Program)

Friends, bloggers, netizens, lend me your ears;
I come to bury
The Mandibles, not to praise it.
The evil that hacks do lives after them;
The good is oft interred in their pages.
So let it be with
The Mandibles.

All right, five chapters left until we're done. I've peeked ahead a little bit and not only am I more convinced than ever that this was meant to be a duology, I'm beginning to think that maybe Shriver was hoping for a trilogy. The 2047 chapters are radically different than the rest of the book. With only around 160 pages left - between 35k and 40k words using my estimates - we're going to meet new characters, learn that some of the existing ones have died, and absorb a titanic amount of worldbuilding (including more terrible slang) - and all without giving up on the author's beloved speeches. This really feels like it should have been a novel in its own right rather than an overlong denouement, but frankly it's not like I would have read another novel by this woman so maybe that's for the best.

We're back with Willing, slightly less obnoxious as an adult, headed back to the house that in the narrative he abandoned 15 years ago and in the book we saw about 15 pages ago. Yes, after contriving a home invasion to get the characters out of that particular set, we're now back in the wink of an eye.
Asserting his claim to 335 East Fifty-Fifth Street also entailed having its current residents evicted. Now paid handsomely in dolares nuevos linked to the mighty bancor, the NYPD undertook such tasks with forbidding relish...Oh, Sam, Tanya, Ellie, and Jake had long ago been replaced by other usurpers. If the condition of the house was anything to go by, recent residents had been less genteel...
Wait, why are we talking about this? What about the last fifteen years and the great exodus to Gloversville?
In 2032, he had raided gardens, pilfered orchards, and held up convenience stores to feel their bedraggled party on the long trek north...
...Working the land at [the farm] was never the same after the federal government nationalized the farms. The Mandibles were demoted to sharecroppers.
You can see why Shriver couldn't depict any of this. If she actually included anything interesting in her novel, then she'd lose all of her literary writer cred.

A few more little details pop up. Willing now has a girlfriend, Fifa, who is...well, horrible, but I'm sure you could have guessed that. We'll be getting better acquainted with this 11th hour acquaintance in the following chapters. For now, we've got more fast-forward worldbuilding to dispatch:
When Willing was small, people made a great brouhaha over pedophilia...
Uh...I don't like where this is heading.
Willing was raped.
Willing was not raped, and I'm glad because I really didn't need to see this author try to depict sexual violence. Rather, this was one of those metaphorical rapes that tasteless authors love so dearly, in this his being "chipped." The rest of the chapter concerns the dreaded chip, frequent flyer in many a terrible near-future book. This is the big change in the 2047 chapters - Shriver abandons that whole "Most Realistic Dystopia Ever" shtick and turns the novel into a fairly generic near-future sci-fi tome, complete with the usual THE FUTURE! notes and even more right-wing tropes.

So let's talk about this chip:
He fought a rising panic as she swung a mechanism behind him and leveled it at the base of his skull - a soft, tender depression, undefended. Glass and chrome maybe, but the device looked like a gun.
Yes, it goes in the base of the skull. Some of you who've actually read up about RFID chips (perhaps because of that implant database that convinced a lot of wingnuts that the scenario we're about to see was plausible) might find this a bit hard to swallow, if for no other reason than the fact that such implants need to integrate into fatty tissue such as that found in the arm or leg. Hell, even putting it in the hand like in some awful evangelical subculture novel seems like it would make more sense. Well, Shriver has an explanation for this was to "keep you from digging it out." That's hilarious to me, as it's also established that the chip is so absurdly sensitive to biochemical changes that it's capable of stopping an intoxicated person from gambling or even stopping a person held at gunpoint from making transfers by sensing their stress. Yet apparently there's no way to stop someone from removing the damn thing except by jacking it straight into his spine, in a way that seems like it could cause paralysis or massive generalized pain if it shifts at all.

Most of this chapter is what I've previously called "plot spackle" - introducing a new plot element and then inserting more plot to cover over the holes that some nasty ol' critic might find. For example, my first thought was that all of this seemed unnecessary - after all, it the Evil Future Government wanted to track people and financial transactions without anyone's consent, why not use biometrics? That technology already exists, and with sufficient accuracy and ubiquity it could be used to facilitate money transfers and even follow people around a la the Cybercog FASTR system from The Oasis is Burning or the similar system in The Fabulist (what can I say? Surveillance defines my world). But that won't work, because "hackers had learned to duplicate [them] as fast as the novel authentications had been brought in." Well, that's convenient.

All right, so what about hackers? And what about mundane network failures that would put an end to all transactions and send the system into turmoil? In the first part of the book, we're told that electronic transactions are virtually unheard of thanks to the "Stone Age," so why is everyone cool with it now? Well, it seems that the chips are "unhackable" (because why not just say that?) and everyone is now cool with those electronic transfers that they once feared because the Future Evil Government paid them off, the dumb sheep. And as far as network failures...well, I guess that doesn't happen, either. It's not like complex systems ever fail or anything.

All of this is part of a scheme by the Bureau for Social Contribution Assistance (read: the IRS) to tax everyone to death. We'll deal with them later, as they're the villains in this briefest of sequels. For now, all you need to know is that the filthy Keynesians are taxing people at 77 percent, with negative interest rates for savings because SAVINGS ARE BAD. Keynesians believe that, right? That's totally a plausible policy in the Most Realistic Dystopian Novel Ever Written.

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