Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie Penny (2016) (read in 2019)
Published by marco on
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This is a novella about a future in which an enterprising group of scientists have invented pills that not only extend life, but also regress signs of aging to any desired age. The main inventor of the drug is Alice, who lives a life of luxury, but not satisfaction. With her emeritus status at her company, she isn’t at any risk, but with her contrary attitude, she is no longer in as much favor as she once was, 90 years ago.
At a fancy, rich party, she meets a group of activists who’ve snuck in disguised as staff. They’re there to steal the little pills that prolong life. They give them away to the poor. Alice pulls them to the side, letting them know that she’s onto their little scheme, but that she won’t turn them in. Instead, she wants to work with them to produce something better, something that supersedes her work on the anti-aging pill, something that will put right the massive changes to society that her original invention engendered.
The invention of that original pill cemented the rich’s stranglehold over the poor. Not only did they have more money, but now they had more time. The gap widened and widened. Alice’s dissatisfaction grew, as did her desire to throw a monkey wrench into the works. She sets up a lab at the activists’ house and spends all of her time there and with them.
Alex is Nina’s boyfriend. Nina is hardcore; Alex less so. In fact, Alex is a plant, a spy for Parker, Alice’s partner at the company that they founded together. Alex has been working this particular group for three years, partnered with Nina and basically fucking her under false pretenses. Nina is a true radical—she doesn’t want to live forever and feels that the ability to extend life nearly indefinitely has ruined what it means to be human. Alex is in love with her, but doesn’t understand her—he wants to donate to her the years he earns as a spy.
The police raid their house, determined to seize Alice’s work, but Margaret eats it, immediately showing its effects: she desiccates and dies, aging eighty years in seconds. They escape the police but now all know what Alice’s secret weapon is. Just as her original invention granted extra years, her ultimate invention can take them away. She calls it the Time Bomb.
Despite Alex’s efforts to deter them, the crew is determined to use the weapon on the rich. They sneak in to a high-level dinner and Nina triggers the bomb, aging all of the others but also herself in the process, but not to death. She is arrested.
Some of the chapters are in the form of letters to Alice from Nina. Alice didn’t age as much because of her century of treatments. Alex aged as well. He still loves Nina. She doesn’t care. She got what she wanted: the rich are no longer secure in their colonial control of the poor, with a surfeit of time. The rich now have something to fear as well—not just slow, natural aging and death, but a jetpack into geriatrics.
“For generations, the elected and unelected leaders of the world had weighed the cost of averting drastic climate change via collective, immediate and lasting technological investment against the considerable inconvenience to their personal lifestyles, done some calculations on the back of a napkin and come up with the answer that it was somebody else’s problem.”
“Everyone Alex had ever known had died too young, although he struggled to think of anyone of whom you could definitely, absolutely say, “That was old enough.” All death was untimely. If that was changing, he wanted in.”
We’re supposed to accept this as unimpeachable, but it’s silly. Most people have lived enough relatively quickly. Just eating, shitting, breathing, killing time. Not that they shouldn’t continue to do so, but it’s hard to argue they haven’t had enough.
“It was probably just personal prejudice—over seven decades of dealing with their bullshit, she had found it simplest to mistrust every cocky white guy she met. She had probably missed out on some great friendships in the process, but overall it saved time: cocky and insecure all at once, always needing their egos stroked, blind to their own power, white boys were always going to let you down or fuck you over.”
““Don’t you see? You don’t have to be making bombs to be an extremist these days. You just have to have the wrong thoughts. And now they can make sure we all die out.””
““I realize it’s an escalation,” said Nina, “and I realize it’s the kind of intervention we’ve never considered before. But me, I hate this town. I hate these people. I hate the suits and I hate the scholars and I hate the state and I hate the way they take everything from you piece by piece until there’s nothing left and I hate it that my friend died and it doesn’t even fucking matter.”
“She was staring at her hands. Her voice was flat and a little frightening.
““All I wanted was to make something small and bright and good, something that lasted a little while, a little while longer than I did. All I wanted was to push back against the darkness just a little bit. To live in the cracks in capitalism with the people I care about, just for a little while. But it turns out I can’t even have that. And now I just want to burn shit down.””
This is the level of alienation that causes terror.
“What else are we supposed to do? Just give up? Slink off into anxious little corners and tear each other’s hearts apart and drink and smoke and screw and die? This doesn’t end well, you know, whatever we do. We’re already fucked. Pointlessly, monumentally fucked. This way, at least we get to decide what kind of fucked we’re going to be.””
““You have taken what was not yours to take. You have put a price on what was not yours to buy. You have taken years, and months, and days. Years of life, from billions of people. You haven’t shed any blood, but you’re still murderers. You have stolen our years, our months, our days. Our moments to live and love and breathe. And now we’re going to steal them back.”
“People are setting off time bombs in New York now. In Paris, in Johannesburg. In fucking Cardiff. Terrorism, and nothing else, that’s what they call it—pure criminality, floating free of politics into pure, abstract fear, clean and convenient. But what does that mean, when everything else they don’t want to think about gets called terrorism, too? Teenagers writing slogans on the walls. Schoolkids reading the wrong books.”