Written by Sam Bauer, special to Other Indie.
The end of our world fascinates us. From Ragnarok, the end of the world in Norse mythology, to the groundbreaking 1984 by George Orwell, to the more modern Hunger Games and Maze Runner, not to mention countless disaster movies, TV shows and video games. It is enough to make one sick of dystopia, groan at zombies, and run screaming from a nuclear or biological holocaust. (Though I must admit, I do the last one on basic principle.) Indeed, it is rare for me to find a dystopic or apocalyptic novel that I enjoy.
But, as the more astute of you have already guessed, I have found a rarity. Its name is Flight or Fight, a 2016 cyberpunk satire written by Scott Bartlett and published by Mirth Publishing.
Taking place in the Schrodinger-awful city of Dodge, a governmentless, anarchic place where everything is run by private corporations, everybody hates their job, and everybody works to get on a plane to the “New World”, a place of peace and plenty. Early in the novel, the main character, Carl Intoever, is told he is the messiah of the only religion -that being Probabilism- and as such, is labelled “Schrodinger reborn.” The novel then chronicles his change from being desperate to “get out of Dodge” so he may fulfill his destiny in the new world to that of taking on the corrupt establishment of Dodge at great personal risk.
What I focused on in the novel was the handling of the economy. Now, I know that economic arguments are often seen as boring, but I would argue that the whole premise of the novel is based in economics. The city of Dodge is without any government, instead it is run by corporations. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is free. You buy load times for your sites through “Net-Neutrality” subscriptions. Your activity is monitored through social media and a video recording of your life, called your “LifeLog”, resulting in other corporations buying that info to jack up prices for important meals, taxi rides, and probably anything, based on how much they can extort from you. It is almost comical, a caricature of the ideas of Libertarianism, Laissez-Faire Capitalism, and the current interference of large corporations in government.
Touted often by the characters in the novel is the idea of the Free Market. Xavier Ofvalour, the person with the highest “LifeRank” -basically a leaderboard for life, with certain actions increasing your score and certain actions decreasing it- is known as the “Hand of the Market”. But, as certain characters make evidently clear, the market is not really free. It is controlled by monopolies, with a social system that punishes innovation by removing credit from the innovator and giving it to the one in power. It is stagnant, with the populace being fed the lie that “innovation is not needed, as technology has met the needs of the people completely.” Despite this being absolutely false, even in the context of the novel, the sentiment is, in a way, right if even only for the world of the novel.
Without spoiling anything, the state of affairs in Dodge can be thought of as the endstate of laissez-faire capitalism. Without an effective government, companies would grow larger and larger, eventually get to the point where they have no competitors, and the need to innovate is gone. Companies would take over the normal role of government. Innovation would stifle, and quality of life would decrease. Human rights would begin to crumble, and a despotic government of the rich would rule. Exactly as it does in Fight or Flight. But enough of my rambling about how I adore this dystopic view of laissez-faire capitalism, how is the novel as a novel?
The thought with which Scott Bartlett tackles this philosophical dystopia is both the strongest and weakest point of the novel. A big plus to Fight or Flight is the use of topical terms. The idea of having a “net neutrality subscription” brings memories of the constant stream of videos and posts about the near abolishment of the real world’s net neutrality laws, and pulls me deeper into seeing if this world is possible from our own. Another large plus is the lack of privacy and how pervasive it is. Nothing is really secret. People can see your life from your eyes, with the right to shut off that service limited to corporate employees given that right and preachers. That lack of privacy combined with the pervasiveness of technology is sinisterly similar to our world in the same way as 1984. The monetization of everything, as well as the bureaucratic opaqueness with hints of Catch-22, adds to the other strong points and creates a potent and slightly unsettling world, as any good satire should.
Matthew LeDrew, founder of Engen Books, loves taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.
What bothered me about Flight or Fight comes from same place as the highest points, the world. From early on, the only religion is Probabilism. This is where Carl’s title of “Schrodinger Reborn” is from. But, save for this crucial role, the religion is mentioned in passing, with someone being “A devout Probibalist” and the use of “prayer dice.” But there is nothing more made of it. Carl goes to a sermon at one point, reminds the reader that he is “Schrodinger Reborn” on occasion, but the church remains ever unexplored. It carries the sinister corporate pseudo-slogan of it being “the only religion left because all others were outcompeted” and at points seems to act as a way to influence the populace, but nothing is really made of it.
Flight or Fight (The Out of Dodge Trilogy Book 1) by Scott Bartlett is available in print and electronic formats. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on laissez-faire capitalism taken to the extreme, and Scott Bartlett has earned his place on my shelf beside the likes of George Orwell and Joseph Heller. I recommend it to everyone, and look forwards to reading more from Scott Bartlett.
‘Other Indie’ is a recurring series of articles on Engen Books in which authors highlight the best in independent publishing, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. Engen Books is an independent small-press publishing company based in St. John’s Newfoundland and is proud to highlight the talent of independent authors not our own. Flight or Fight is © 2016 Scott Bartlett. This review is © 2016 Sam Bauer. ‘Other Indie’ banner photo credit: Steve Lake.