Everything Belongs to the Future
by Laurie Penny
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This novella falls into the category of story that warns, "Be careful what you wish for." It is a dystopia in which some of the characters probably think it's a utopia. Medical science has helped increase our life expectancy, but what would happen if there was a treatment or a drug that could stop aging for an extra fifty or a hundred years, and you could arrest your development at whatever biological age you wished. Would you choose to be a mature 30 or 40 for the rest of your life, maybe a virile 21 for another century, or younger than that, frozen in perpetual adolescence? One of the main architects of this brave new world chooses the latter, but one could argue that was not a wise decision.
I initially rated Everything Belongs to the Future four stars on Goodreads, but after further reflection I downgraded it to three. I enjoyed it, the prose is good and the characters are vividly portrayed, but I still have a few doubts about the structure and focus of the story. Told alternately in third person narrative, interspersed with a first person voice in the form of letters from a prison cell, the story asks some hard questions but doesn't answer many. The drug is expensive of course, so only the rich can afford it, which is similar to a lot of situations in the real world today. What we don't get to see is what the rich have made of their new lives. Have they become decadent party-goers with no cares in the world? Many people probably figure that's what the rich do today. Or did they take advantage of their new found freedom to pursue more esoteric goals? Penny doesn't give us that information. Instead, we see everything from the perspective of a few radical youth who cannot afford the drug, and wish to abolish the advantage it gives to the rich.
One of the drug's designers casts her lot with the radicals, clueing them into a counter-agent that will cause rapid aging in those already taking the drug. Daisy Craver is 95 years old, yet she chose to physically remain about 15 years of age, and that decision seems to have affected her personality and outlook on life as well. Aren't all teenagers disaffected with the world and their lot in it, don't most of them think they know it all, and resent their elders? Daisy is in such a predicament, either bored with her life, or resentful of those who act much older than her, or both. Unfortunately, we don't get the explantions we need, so it's hard to understand her motives. She seems to be just a spoiled brat. It's possible she could have perfected the drug and made it more affordable, instead she wants to destroy it. Why isn't she the one writing the letters from prison instead of the radical Nina? Again, I don't know. It's frustrating.
This can be forgiven in part because this is Penny's first foray into fiction, although I believe she has also published some poetry. Her main occupation is as a journalist focusing on feminst issues with various UK and US publications, having recently written several insightful pieces on the UK Brexit vote and the current US Presidential election. This is part of the Tor.com novella program, which has been publishing some very good stories in print and e-book editions for the past few years. This is a worthy edition to the collection, but only in the context of the character interaction, and it's not as good as others I've read. If you have a Kindle, the $2.99 price is very reasonable, and it's the same for the Nook or Kobo reader. Not a waste of time, but considering its brevity, maybe not worth the paperback price.
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