2044: Big Brother Inc.

I just finished a new novel, 2044.

2044 starts where George Orwell’s 1984 left off. The problem isn’t Big Brother and the leviathan government. The problem is Big Brother Inc., and the all-powerful marketplace.

Orwell was right for his time, of course. Europe lay in smoking ruins, and the statist Stalin peered over the wall with his Big Brother mustache. Orwell sounded the alarm.

But history didn’t unfold that way. The government didn’t take over. It got taken over. Nowadays the commercial sector is in control. Everything is produced en masse and for profit, from clothes to music to political campaigns. Amazon.com knows what I read. Microsoft makes me write with Windows™. ToysRUs tells my kids what they want.

Check out the fights over the new federal budget. Look what the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are doing to health care reform, and how the good old Military Industrial Complex grows the defense budget. Watch giant agribusiness conglomerates dress up like family farmers and milk the government for subsidies. 2044 follows the pattern to the endpoint.

The heroes of 2044 are two overworked professionals who spend long days at the office and short nights in tiny apartments. Malcolm Moore is an engineer who designs security devices for the titanic Tentek Corporation. Jessica Frey is a lawyer who defends such corporations in court. Both are single and both are lonely — though Jessica has a six-year-old son, her sperm-banked answer to isolation.

The story begins when Malcolm discovers a cheap, easy way to take the salt out of seawater. Fresh water is scarce enough right now. By the year 2044, people will die and countries will go to war for water. A microorganism that takes the salt out of seawater could benefit literally billions of people.

But it also threatens business interests who are happy the way things are. Malcolm’s effort to persuade Tentek to sell his discovery gets him fired. His effort to strike out on his own gets him branded a terrorist. People who assist him are harassed, jailed and even killed.

It’s an exciting ride. The action scenes are fun and the politics of terrorism are haunting. There are even touches of humor and occasional references to 1984 — like the corporate merger that creates the new Big Brother Inc., with its happy slogan, “Big Brother is looking out for you.”

I like it, anyway. But then I wrote the thing.

It started some years ago with the idea of a private sector sequel to 1984. The idea didn’t go away, and eventually I stopped waiting. I decided to do it myself. My precise inspiration: “You’ve read a lot of crappy books. You can probably write one that’s no worse.” So I did. And it turned out pretty good.

Publishing it was a different story, though. A story about consolidation in the publishing industry (someone could write a novel about that!), the devotion to proven authors, and the aversion to unhappy endings (true to the original, I’m sorry to say).

So I took the self-publishing route around industry bottlenecks. Now you can buy 2044 direct from the publisher or at Amazon.com, of course. You can read Chapter One for free on my web page or, if you ask me nicely, I’ll send you a PDF (though I kept the purchase price almost as low as the printing costs). If you have any other ideas for outreach or distribution, I’m all ears.

Now it’s onward, back to my nonfiction life (and the outline of a new novel, uplifting with a happy ending). Meanwhile, enjoy the book.

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