A review by jackielaw
2084 by George Sandison


2084 is an anthology of fifteen short stories specially commissioned by the publisher, Unsung Stories, and supported by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. It offers

“15 predictions of the world, 67 years in the future.”

The authors have created a variety of dystopian societies that it is distressingly easy to believe could come to be.

In each of the stories technological innovation has created a shift in the way people live, not necessarily for the better. Monitoring of everyday activity by the state and for entertainment is widely regarded as expedient. An elite retain control and breed fear in the proletariat as a means of suppression. These stories bring up to date the underlying message behind the book’s inspiration, 1984 by George Orwell. As the editor, George Sandison, writes

“There are warnings in this book – we would do well to heed them.”

The first story, Babylon by Dave Hutchinson, takes as its theme immigration. The protagonist, Da’uud, is seeking to gain entry into a Europe that has

“encysted itself behind concentric borders and buffer zones, the better to protect itself and its citizens from the likes of him.”

Da’uud carries with him a device, developed by and then stolen from North Korea. The chilling purpose of this is a powerful reminder of ingrained prejudice, all too obvious today.

Here Comes The Flood by Desirina Boskovich is set in a sealed city on the American coast that is struggling to remain functional. Climate Change has resulted in more displaced people than the authorities are willing to accept so these DisPers are kept outside, abandoned to die. Those inside are entertained by publicly broadcast trials of the elderly who are blamed for the current situation.

“Did he buy goods shipped halfway across the world? […] Never a moment’s consideration for future generations as he enjoyed the spoils, savoured the loot: the belching, farting jet planes; the human greed-machines on their hoard of ill-gotten treasures, their water gulping industry, their cheap plastic trash. Did he own a vehicle? Yes? Disgusting.”

Despite the bleak prospects for the city, young couples still apply to the population lottery for permission to procreate.

Glitterati by Oliver Langmead offers the perspective of one of future society’s elite. Its protagonist’s raison d’être is to be seen. Simone spends his days keeping abreast of current fashions, the most important part of his working day being his arrival at the office where he may walk the red carpet, be photographed and applauded. He deplores the lives of those unfashionables he catches sight of on his daily commute.

“The uglies. The unwashed, unmanicured masses. […] It pained him to see them down there, milling around without the first idea of how dreadful they appeared; how their untrained aesthetic snses were so underdeveloped that they could barely comprehend their own hideousnesses. To think they did actual labour! […] It was unfathomable that people existed like that.”

When Simone mistakenly wears the wrong colour for a day he worries that he will suffer demotion. Instead he finds himself trend-setting, which brings new pressures to bear.

The Infinite Eye by JP Smythe looks at life from the viewpoint of an illegal, living in a camp and looking for work. He applies to a start-up which pulls together surveillance from traffic cameras, drones, security systems, photos and videos shot by tourists. The developers had intended to use AI but were concerned about handing over control. Instead they plug people into their network to observe and act as needed.

“You’ll be eyes for the cameras, for the drones. Assisting the police in catching people, finding crimes that are happening or going to happen, apprehending illegals.”

“Inhabit this camera, and watch, the software told me. Wait until there is something worth paying attention to. Then switch to a drone, follow the incident.”

The man is good at this job, but the violation he cannot observe is the one that involves himself.

Several of the stories explore a world where a new generation of robotic helpers become sentient, where there is an overlap between man and machine. The use of AI in electromechanical devices is imagined in many forms: workers, warriors, children. Abilities are enhanced whilst numbing the senses that may balk at required actions.

Shooting An Episode by Christopher Priest offers these enhancements in the form of armour, the numbing a collective conditioning. The population in this story are kept entertained by constantly running reality shows which they may interact with, affecting outcomes. That real people die goes unregarded, those at the sharp end generously compensated to do whatever it takes to increase ratings. The protagonist may be sickened but if they do not do their job someone else will. The demands of the players for action dictates the form of this evolving reality.

March, April, May by Malcolm Devlin looks at a ubiquitous social media, The Space, where individuals’ feeds are personalised and curated by algorithms. Certain behaviour by users is expected, negativity disapproved. One friend in a group refuses to conform.

“April used The Space as she damn well pleased. At least, she did until she disappeared.”

There is discussion about where she may have gone, who she really was, if indeed she existed. There is disquiet about the role played by The Space, but this is laughed away.

“It’s only The Space, we say. The idea is preposterous. It would be like rebelling against a kitchen appliance.”

Nobody really knows what happens to those who contravene the terms of service. It is not a subject for discourse, negativity being unwelcome on The Space.

Each of these stories builds on topics raised today, playing out possibilities in disquieting directions. Ways of living may have moved on but attitudes have not changed.

The writing throughout is excellent, each tale darkly compelling. A collection that deserves to be widely read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Unsung Stories.