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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

September 3, 2009
Rating: 8/10

Imagine rising from your desk, cheerfully parading with your colleagues into one of your office's common rooms, listening to some daily words of encouragement from the beloved CEO via webcam, and then reciting, in unison, a pledge: "I pledge allegiance to the ________ (your company's name here) Corporation of America. I will serve loyally and work hard for our great goals: a safer, more productive, and more prosperous world for all." For many of us the reciting of a national pledge is laughable, a zombie-like ritual designed for children at school, and the notion of chanting some altogether insignificant pledge that our companies would wish us to recite before 'work' commences for the day is downright absurd. According to Eric Lotke's debut novel, however, in the future most of us will not only be reciting such a pledge each morning of the workweek, we will actually look forward to it. And for those who don't…well, they'll be fired!

In 2044 water is scarce, and people pay premium globos (the futuristic world currency) not only for drinking water, but everyday types of water use. Malcolm Moore is a successful engineer at Tentek and designs products that in theory should make life easier for everyone. Tentek's major competition throughout the business world is the rival multi-national corporation, Microtech; between the two of them the companies own, in one way or another, most all businesses in operation, from law firms to media outlets to sports teams. The story's plot takes a step up when Malcolm's father, Bernard, is arrested on bioterrorism charges for contaminating the water supply. As it turns out, however, the "contamination" in question is actually water purification. Through various associations Malcolm's father has acquired water that is self-desalinating, a process capable of drastically cutting water costs and providing easily-produced fresh drinking water for everyone around the world. Roused to action by his father's abrupt arrest and detention, Malcolm Moore is transformed from engineer to adventurer, and in his search for the truth behind this game-changing water is brought face to face with the daunting power of big business.

Along the way Moore recruits the help of Jessica Frey, an international patent attorney that he once met on a bad date, and David, her son, who helps Malcolm realize the joy and fulfillment provided by youth. Armed with nothing more than curiosity, the trio witnesses a back-channel world that is hidden from the rest of the population, a disparity that comes into sharp focus when they venture outside New Angeles, a suburb of Los Angeles that has attracted most of middle- and upper-class Angelinos over the years. During his knowledge quest Malcolm comes to call on a couple of his father's connections for help, as well as a colleague from the lower ranks of the corporate food chain, all of whom are wary of Malcolm as a consequence of his association with Tentek.

Having just finished up Naomi Klein's No Logo, Lotke's book came at just the right time during my own reading cycle. While Lotke says that his novel is somewhat of an extension of Orwell's literary masterpiece 1984, it probably has as much if not more in common with No Logo. Klein's book is a haunting non-fiction account of how corporations have invaded and permeated everything from our homes to our workplaces, and even the public school system, detailing the fundamental reality of the times: the power of the marketplace has grown to rival that of the state. And whether we realize it or not, the streams of commerce envelope our daily lives to a dramatic extent. The power balance between the government and the marketplace as been steadily changing throughout the world, and the marketplace appears to have gained the upper hand. Lotke's account of life in 2044 combines the over-arching and all-powerful aspects of Orwell's visionary government with the modern reality that society is increasingly influenced by a number of corporations, all vying for global saturation…and the book works. 2044 comes across as visionary and relevant, and by the end of the novel there is an eerie feeling of clarity on where society is heading.

Throughout 2044 Lotke uses clever phrasing and ingenious words to conjure up the future workplace. Much as the new wave of smartphones, the "lifelink" is the all-everything mobile device that keeps a person in touch with the world. Echoing the fears of some tech skeptics, the 'lifelink' is however more than a mobile phone or PDA; it's also a way for employers to keep track of employees' whereabouts, know who they're contacting, and easily follow what they're searching for or purchasing on the internet. Essentially it's an expanded and more invasive version of what Blackberrys and iPhones provided by employers have already done. Another gem provided by Lotke is the concept of "ultratime," which describes the manic workweeks of employees who are on a deadline. Sure, burning the candle at both ends to wrap up a project in time is no new concept, but in 2044 Lotke takes the idea of cramming to a new level. When the story's protagonist is putting in eighteen-hour days at a steady clip he's lucky to get five hours of sleep a night, and other employees keep bottles on hand to urinate into because they are too busy to go to the bathroom. "Ultratime" can last for weeks, and slices right through birthdays, vacations, dates, classes, a child's piano recital or even visits to a gravely-ill mother.

In Lotke's vision of the future, our children and grandchildren can look forward to a delightful piece of equipment in the form of an electro-shock implant that rests right inside the thigh, patiently waiting for a signal from corporate headquarters. The device is always there, lingering, with the power to cripple a person mid-stride. Perversely, the jolt is so intense that workaholics come to enjoy it, thinking of it not as a digital leash but as a mark of importance and self-worth. To them the shock is an honor, not an invasion of their privacy. While official policy dictates that the office should only zap for the most urgent of situations, it goes without saying that in the world of unforgiving capitalism pretty much anything and everything posing a threat to the bottom-line can be considered an emergency.

Lotke's strengths lie not only in his daunting futuristic vision, but in his insights on contemporary phenomena as well. The concepts of "security" and "terrorism" and "crime" play expanded roles throughout 2044, and it's impossible to ignore the degree of interconnectedness with which Lotke views these concepts. In fact, "safety" is written into the corporate pledge, engraining the notion of protection against an unseen but always lurking threat into a worker's daily routine. It doesn't take long for the constant allusions to unseen danger to instill a subconscious panic instinct. When Malcolm, Jessica and David are riding on a commuter train that loses power, the inconveniences of halted motion, faint light and lack of air conditioning are enough to send passengers into hysterics over an imagined terrorist attack. As conversations inside the train escalate into shouting matches, panic quickly descends. Convinced they are doomed to utter destruction and desolation, the collective apprehension settles in a silence that is only interrupted by the eventual flickering of lights. As the train's loudspeaker unassumingly announces that inconsequential technical problems were the cause of the delay, everything returns to a state of perceived control and visions of a hostage takeover recede.

Along with work, sport is the driving force of conversation throughout society in 2044. This won't come as much of a surprise we head into autumn, a time when today's daily conversations often revolve around matters of wins, losses and key injuries. As the author very aptly points out, children have an uncanny ability to recite detailed statistics on their favorite teams and players while performing miserably in most subjects in school. This problem is certainly acute throughout today's society, but the level of fascination and worship is also true for video games, entertainers and fashion icons. In an Orwellian and Kleinian twist, sports teams in 2044, like everything else, have been taken over by the major corporations. Virtually all franchises are owned by commercial monstrosities, and many are named after them. Wagering on games is completely legal and encouraged. In fact, most work computers come equipped with a gambling function that automatically adjusts an employee's monthly paycheck to reflect their balance with the in-house bookies.

From ultratiming to on-the-clock betting, all of the focus on sports and work serves to keep society occupied with frivolous things, which of course works to the advantage of The Man. People continually disregard family, friends, societal issues, even the source of their drinking water, to discuss the latest basketball tournament or football game.

The whole point of Lotke's novel is self-evident throughout: in an increasingly globalized future, Big Business has the power and influence to change the world for the good, but much like today they consistently fail in doing so. In 2044 the problem is water. Among the problems in today's society are energy, climate change, health care, housing, and proportional pay for employees, issues that mirror 2044 directly. Most multi-national energy companies have the resources and financial capital to produce clean(er) energy today, yet record profits provide little incentive to do more than keep consumers docile enough to curb demands for alternatives. Keeping the status quo is a no-brainer for the energy companies.

Lotke's novel puts a human face on a problem that for too long has been examined at the bottom line, rather than the human line. There is a point to when exponential profits and expanded market value are no longer rationally feasible. There is a limit to how long employees can work before they consequently become absentee parents, distant friends, and altogether invisible members of society. On the other hand, there are few limits when it comes to using the ingenuity and passion of creative companies to increase the standard of living throughout the world, providing the truly happier workers that studies repeatedly prove are more productive. Utopia, however, cannot be accomplished without informed public discussions on the role of the commercial sector. Much like Orwell's 1984, Lotke's 2044 was written to spark debate. Hopefully it succeeds.

SEE ALSO: 2044thenovel.com
SEE ALSO: www.iuniverse.com

--
Brian Christopher Jones
A student living in Scotland and working toward a PhD in law.

See other articles by Brian Christopher Jones.

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