The Future by Naomi Alderman
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: November 7, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Suspense
The road to ruin is paved with certainty. The end of the world is only ever hastened by those who think they will be able to protect their own from the coming storm.
From holiday horror to ending the year with dystopian apocalyptic science fiction? Why not! I decided to lean into everything that gives me anxiety. Namely, AI, social media, the obscene wealth hoarded and squandered by a handful of tech billionaires. Oh, and the end of the world as we know it. Little did I know how perfectly Naomi Alderman’s new novel The Future would encapsulate all these topics. Should I be reading books like this right now? Probably not, but it’s infinitely better written and more interesting than any of the agita-producing real news out there.
The Future is about three tech multibillionaires in America who own the fictional counterparts of Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. It’s not hard to figure out who’s who based on Alderman’s physical descriptions of the male CEOs. She treats them the same way the girls in high school probably did—with a fairly high level of disdain. Which, of course, made me laugh out loud. She does twist things a bit by making the CEO of one of the companies a woman, but she’s got issues of her own and is useful as a placeholder for the theorem that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This triumvirate is the power structure of the novel but the main narrators are two disparate women, Martha and Zhen. Martha was raised in Oregon in a doomsday cult run by her father that she was able to escape as a teenager. The skills Martha gained living off the grid her entire life make her appealing to Lenk Sketlish, the founder of Fantail (FaceBook), who hires her to be his executive assistant and soon enough she’s as vital to him as oxygen. In her capacity as his assistant she’s formed her own network of contacts.
They may be the nucleus of The Future’s plot, but it is Zhen, a Chinese woman inadvertently steps into their matrix and becomes the butterfly in the chaos theory. Zhen survived the fall of Hong Kong as a child but spent years in a British refugee camp leading her to a doomsday mindset that she’s parlayed into a career as producer of videos and influencer on all things survivalist. She meets Martha at a conference and what begins as sexual attraction inadvertently becomes something much more.
Alderman’s premise pulls you quickly into the novel: these dictators of the tech world have long realized there’s more money to be gained by fear and that when the end comes, as they’re banking on, they’ll be prepared with the means to not only survive, but survive in luxury. Which may be the theme to The Future as well: while we poor slobs pour our paychecks into their bank accounts, fill their databases and create their products with data mined from our brains, they’re facilitating social isolation, divisiveness, and a world crisis that will wipe us out and leave the planet to them. Far-fetched? I’m not so sure.
The novel keeps leveling up as each character and their company’s ability to wreak havoc goes a step beyond. Somehow, Alderman lays it all out on the page in a way that’s magnetic and feels like a weird combination of chess match and roller coaster. There are charts of gaming theory, games, postings from an online survivalist forum called Name the Day as well as the kind of technological advances that read like science fiction, but may already exist for all I know. But at the core is human nature and that’s the sticky, unpredictable part that The Future exploits to the max.
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