Everything Belongs to the Future: a tale of pharmadystopian, immortal gerontocrats
Laurie Penny's first science fiction book, Everything Belongs to the Future, is available to the public as of today: if you've followed her work, you're probably expecting something scathing, feminist, woke, and smart as hell, and you won't be disappointed -- but you're going to get a lot more, besides.
Penny's story -- a novella from the Tor.com imprint -- is set in the last years of the 21st century, just as the very first ageless immortals are approaching their centenary. They are the beneficiaries of a drug that halts aging, a $100/day pill that you need to take every day -- a pill that revolutionizes the relationship of wealthy elites to the world. Once it's clear that the rich can live forever, patent law is immediately amended to provide for eternal royalties to the pharma company behind the drug, and climate change is suddenly a deadly serious business, with no expense spared for remediation. Inheritance laws and the relationship of rich children to their parents become very different indeed, and then there's the rest of us.
What if you don't have $400K/year to spare on anti-aging meds? Well, you could apply for a grant. The smartest scientists, the most successful artists, the people who amuse and assist the hyper-wealthy are all eligible for permanent, endless, lifetime supplies of the drugs. If you don't fit the bill, well, it's a meritocracy, isn't it? Try and raise some kids who amuse and entertain the super-wealthy and maybe they'll bud off a new immortal line. Follow your dreams, kids!
Penny's protagonists are a ragtag group of protesters, anarcho-syndicalist crustypunks who steal anti-aging meds from the rich students and dons of Oxford University and hand them out for free in the slums where the caretakers and janitors and waiters and sex-workers live. Unbeknownst to these resistors, one of their number is actually a police undercover agent, a snitch who's much older than he seems -- thanks to the anti-aging meds he receives as part of his compensation -- and who is sexually involved with one of them, besotted with her, planning to take her with him into a life everafter just before the police sweep in an take the rest of them into custody.
The scariest, most enduring dystopias walk a fine line between parable and prediction. Penny erases that line. In this made-up story, the rich speciate from the poor; in our real world, working class lifespans are declining as the one percent live ever longer lives at ever-greater removes from the rest of us. This is no mere literary device. This is a pitiless allegory, calculated to enrage and terrify its readers.
This is a book that is smart and merciless in its politics, expert in its storytelling, and uncomfortable in its ability to get under your skin.
Everything Belongs to the Future [Laurie Penny/Tor.com]
(Banner image: :Oxford Skyline Panorama from St Mary's Church, David Iliff, CC-BY-SA)
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