The Future by Naomi Alderman
Pub: 7 November UK
This is one of two books this year that bring up the story of Lot and his wife who turned into a pillar of salt. The other was the brilliant non-fiction book ‘The Earth Transformed’ by Peter Frankopan. His theory is Lot was the victim of climate change and the salt might well have been real as the soil turned to dust in a major drought.
In the Future, Lot’s story begins as a sidebar in an Internet forum and slowly, inexorably takes over the whole book. It’s not a nice story. Most of the Bible is full of not so nice stories – rape, incest, slaughter, on repeat really.
More curiously, this book, which is called ‘The Future’ and is set somewhere around 2036 I’m guessing, but despite all the high tec stuff is firmly rooted in Covid times. A lockdown novel really. It’s a survival story with a great plot and a wonderful twist with main characters who are very thinly disguised versions of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page - not entirely sure who the CEO female characters are supposed to be, but no one is entirely sane and they control pretty much everything we do.
The one character to bond with is the HK refugee now Survivalist influencer Lia Zhen, a very fit lesbian who unexpectantly bonds with Martha the primary assistant to Lenk Sketlish (the Musk character). Lia is the one sane character who has already been through an apocalyptic childhood. Oddly enough so has Martha and she is the one with power in this sudden relationship. It's a love story with a difference.
Within this paranoid vision of a 'helpful’ AI future with lethal drones are controlling ever expanding safe zones to protect the last wild animals, there are lessons to be learned. The most important one is that AI will never be ‘intelligent, or self-aware’. We might even wish it, but as Ms Alderman explains (in some length) AI is just a collection of matchboxes with beads in it endlessly sorting them until it kind of makes sense to us!
There is no wizard behind the curtain.
The crux of this novel is about AUGR. A very sophisticated AI system tailored to a chosen few billionaires, which can predict imminent danger and guide you out of trouble, save your life. It is combining the entire human digital traces to predict trends and right at the beginning of the book it is predicting the end of the world. Of course, no billionaire is complete without several subterranean boltholes all across the world to survive in. Turns out that Martha gifted Lia the AUGR link. So will she survive and get to meet Martha in some New Zealand bolthole? And that in the end is what the book is about. Who will survive? Not you or me, just them… Makes you feel good right?
© Sam Hawksmoor 2023
Author of Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles download or order the print version