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••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Radiation Issues

A Risk of Signing Away the Future
• Bryan Smith
The truth about Tech might kill you

smart arm

Sitting at her desk, with pen in hand, she looked wistfully at her calendar. ‘2030. Where has all the time gone?’ She was about to sign the acceptance form for being a Keynote Speaker at the upcoming Literature Festival when Greg entered the office with an agitated look.

“You should really think about this Deborah. It could be your worst decision and might even be life threatening.”

“Oh, come on Greg, don’t be such a drama queen. It may be a big departure from themes of my other books, but one or two of the presumptive scenarios contained have been floated in a few of my short stories” she replied in an authoritative manner. He had become well used to the smug look she sometimes displayed when appearing to be assertive.

“But you haven’t courted the same level of controversy and potential divisiveness that this book will unleash” His agitation seemed more pronounced, as he paced around her office.

“I’m no stranger to controversy and I’m delighted with the book’s initial pre-publication impact. My agent believes it will immediately be included in the long list of thirteen for the Man Booker prize, with a strong prospect of making the short list of five or six, particularly following my conference performance.”

Once more he paced around the office. This time, shaking his head in a display of frustration. Before he could respond she said,

“Anyway, it’s just Sci Fi, with a less than likely scenario of what will actually happen in the future.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it. The strength you always display through detailed research and the key focus on the contentious issue of possible brain damage caused by continual use of mobile devices over decades.” He paused and she smiled and nodded. “And as you know, there are now more than a handful of claims in process through our courts. It all feeds into your, your..” He hesitated.

“Realistic scenario,” she interjected, with a look of pride, as she flicked her greying locks.

“More-like ‘Opening a door to Doomsday’ is how it could be perceived. The problem is with your growing reputation of a successful author, a lot of readers may just accept it, which will scare the hell out of those in positions of influence in the high-tech industries.” He leaned on her desk and gave her a scathing look. She shook her head, smiled and then chuckled.

“This is no laughing matter. A massive cull of the world’s population through critical brain damage. Only the under threes and the dinosaurs among the over eighties who have never used a mobile device; mostly men, since women across all age groups are better at networking. So, we have a population of primarily elderly widowers and small children trying to save the planet from extinction.” He gave her a cold stare.

“Don’t forget robots. Initiatives in artificial intelligence over the last several years have already highlighted exponential development of robots compared to humans” she said with a mischievous grin.

“I rest my case. Q.E.D. Clearly the gap in that development, which, in lacking any ethics, will promote misuse of power by robots. Hello to Doomsday! There’ll be calls to ban your book or worse.”

“Oh, that’s rubbish” She gave a dismissive wave of her hand.

“We’re both familiar with the large marquee at Hay and with over a thousand people inside and virtually no security, you’ll be a sitting duck. It will be reminiscent of Rushdie about forty years ago, when he made his first appearance following the Fatwa.” She nodded her head and smiled.

“I was there. I remember it well, such absurdity. Wrong argument. He’s alive and still writing books. Anyway, I can’t see why you’re getting so worked up about it. As I said, it’s only Sci Fi.” She gave him a teasing look.

“Yes, and we both know how a few highly reputable authors of the genre have written predictive stuff, that has subsequently proved to be quite close to reality.” As he turned towards her the sun through the window reflected off his balding pate.

“Absolutely! There you have it. Something, we agree about.”

“Yes, but you don’t stop there, do you? Oh no! You graft on a political dimension, with a democratically elected president of a country, who proves to be more frightening than ex-president Trump. Then there are masses of political coalitions across countries, because voters are too scared to elect any leader with real power, which predictably leads to weak leadership and conflicts with the military, resulting in more military dictators, who value greed and power over and above everything” Again, he made with the stony stare.

“Wow! Why don’t you just get it all off your chest!” she said with a chuckle.

“Yes, well, you also stir up the modern slavery issue, growth of which you claim is being fuelled by our foreign aid budget, through meaningful donations being diverted within corrupt regimes”

“Which is actually true. The evidence is clear. Also, the growth is already substantial.” she quickly retorted.

“Well, maybe! But then you introduce a worldwide rising-up of slaves.”

“And that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Let’s face it the Slavery Act of fifteen years ago hasn’t had much impact. Shades of Wilberforce. After all, most of our forebears were active in the slave trade and again there’s evidence to support that.” she asserted.

“Be that as it may. But why in the world do you have to further fuel potential negative reaction by introducing extreme religious fanatics, so soon after we’ve contributed to ridding the world of the remnants of I.S.I.S. and other similar factions, with their perverted ideologies?”

“Because it’s always going to be part of the world, we live in. Anyway, it’s not just the story with its plot and sub plots. What about the writing-the literary impact and value? Frankly, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and your editing and proof reading has helped immensely.” She gave him a warm smile.

“Well yes, thanks. I agree about the brilliance of the writing, but when you talk about the book, the critics will be lining up to take pot shots at you and I shall be praying they are all metaphorical.” Once more, his frustration was evident through his look of concern.

“They can bring it on. My fictional scenarios are no great stretch from current facts, trends and evidence. I’m not going to be intimidated.” He walked around, shaking his head dejectedly and sighed.

“You could volunteer to speak at a more local or regional festival, rather than one of the biggest. It would be safer. Then, based on feedback, you could decide whether to go for one of the big ones later, like next year.” he said appealingly.

“I don’t buy that. Timing is vital. It’s important to strike while the iron is hot. The novel is at risk of becoming a dying art form. I believe my book will make a massive impact. Too many authors see their novel as merely a step towards it being adapted for T.V. or the big screen, where they can make lots of money. The novel needs to reclaim deep cultural resonance and that’s what mine will do” She sat back with a look of superiority, once more flicking her greying locks.

“My God, you sound like some evangelist on a mission - a messianic deliverer of heaven knows what.” She laughed, but then suddenly seemed breathless. Quickly opening a drawer in her desk, she withdrew her asthma inhaler and following two applications, she slowly lurched back in her chair with a deep sigh.

“It doesn’t get any better does it and all the extra weight you’ve put on over the last few months in writing the book hasn’t helped” He shook his head while giving her a censuring look.

“Enough, Greg! You’re not my doctor. It all fits together well and the structure will grab and retain readers interest right through to the climax.”

“I’m not so sure about that. The complexity of your matrix of chapter headings, alternating between character names on one axis and specific dates on the other, with the frequent going forwards and backwards in time, could just be off-putting, particularly for readers who don’t read the book in one sitting. I’ve seen the sort of thing work with a psychological thriller, but your book, well… and regarding climax, you dare to offer readers a ‘pick and mix’ ending. I know it’s been done before, but more-so in films.” Despairingly, he shook his head once more.

“It’ll work and it’ll be a tremendous success.”

“Maybe! The scenarios you espouse and how you link them, while presenting a bleak prospect for the future of the human race, might just influence a few key people to invite you to join in some capacity to, well, take steps to try to influence towards a better future.” She smiled broadly.

“However, in contrast, with large factions who will be motivated to attack you and bring you down, I have to counsel you not to place yourself in harm’s way, which is what could happen if you speak at that festival. I can hire security specialists, but I still wouldn’t feel confident about your safety. So, please don’t sign the acceptance form.” He looked at her with appeal, as if she was the centre of his world. She shook her head, laughed and then suddenly with a pained expression, grabbed at her chest.

“My heart, my pills!” She pointed to the far wall cabinet, in which he knew she kept her medication.

“Quickly, please” she pleaded. He pondered her request for several seconds.

‘Is it possible I can get there and back in time? I do care about you, but then again, the book. If I just saunter, then probably not! It’s a nice word - saunter. What a dilemma. But posthumous publication! That could lead to some sort of martyrdom. A pick and mix ending. It’s a bit of a toss-up really.’

© Bryan Smith Nov 27 2019

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