Our in-house satirist and award-winning playwright, CJ Hopkins, has written this novel, which, if all goes to plan, we’ll be publishing in April. The name of the book is ZONE 23. Apparently, it’s some kind of post-Orwellian “Atwood-meets-Pynchon meets-Vonnegut” type thing. There’s a cover blurb, a synopsis, and so on, on our official Consent Factory Publishing page. We don’t expect you to purchase this book, much less actually take the time to read it, but we’re contractually obligated to at least attempt to relentlessly market it for a couple of months, so we’re going to go ahead and start with that now. Here’s the breathtaking opening chapter, in which the Normals’ equanimity is shattered by the news of a tragedy of epic proportions …
For the Normals, the vast majority of consumers living and working in Northeast Region 709 of the United Territories, a globalized monetary and fiscal alliance of the nominally sovereign, democratic nations that were huddled together side by side on the habitable upper third of the planet, 17 April, 2610, or 02 Iyyar, 6370, or 01 Shawwal, 2049, or Day 600 in the Year of the Lemur (or any of a host of alternative dates, depending on their proprietary calendars), was just another perfect, peaceful day in the Age of the Renaissance of Freedom and Prosperity.
Or at least it started out that way.
At approximately 0530 that morning, having finished their normal morning ablutions (i.e., waterless showering, laser body shaving, anal bleaching, and other ablutions), and having broken the seals on the recyclable containers of their anti-oxidant soy-milk smoothies and lowfat totally gluten-free breakfasts, Normals and their families were gathered together in their temperature-regulated, self-cleaning kitchens, heads slightly bowed in an attitude of prayer, scanning, each on their All-in-One Viewers, their personally programmed proprietary streams of individualized Morning Content, a lively mix of information, entertainment and social networking customized to reflect their interests and individual purchasing patterns … everything was just as normal as could be.
The forecast that morning was particularly pleasant … clear and sunny throughout the Region. Winds were out of the west and light. The projected high was 46 Celsius. Heat advisories remained in effect for Communities south of the 45th parallel. Consumers were advised to refrain from any non-essential outdoor activity. Everything else was looking rosy. SatCom signal strength was excellent. Check-in times at the local airports were averaging under fourteen hours, down from their previous eighteen hours, down from their previous twenty-two hours. The odds of a devastating Terrorist attack with an improvised low-yield nuclear weapon, or some horrible chemical or bio-agent that would kill you the second it touched your skin, were low to acceptable.
Life was good.
Business was good. Extremely good. Little green upward-pointing arrows were dancing across the bottom of their screens. They were chasing a parade of little three-letter acronyms … CRS …BBB … HCM … FFC … each of which stood for some corporate entity, all of whose shares were trading heavily. Normal consumers could track this trading in Real-Time right on the screens of their Viewers, or they could download individualized streams of market data from selected Regions. Or they could visit these Regions on their Real-Life maps, search nearby for business establishments, zoom right into their virtual interiors and virtually experience their virtual environments. Or they could search for Entertainment Content in which these business establishments were featured, or the names of which were casually mentioned … household names like Chloe’s, Chaney’s, VR Universe, and Big-Buy Basement, where every GMAX Model 30, whatever that was, was drastically reduced. Or they could comparison shop at CRS, Big-Buy Basement’s fiercest competitor, which would match or beat Big-Buy’s best price on any prescription medication. Cylozilatrin Z, for example, a popular Amyloidosis preventative, or Buxafenanadrine, or something like that, which reduced the adverse effects of something. And that wasn’t all, oh no, far from it, because the Normals were free to share this offer (the conditions of which were subject to change) with their Big-Buy Family, Friends & Contacts, some of whom were just bound to be fans of Brandon Westwood, the Content designer, who had just won a Golden Penguin in Gothåb, where currently it was 18 Celsius and partly cloudy with scattered light showers, and to which last-minute round-trip tickets were being offered at the following portals …
Which millions of Normals were actually doing, or were seriously considering contemplating doing (i.e., sharing this offer with their Friends & Contacts, or checking on last-minute flights to Gothåb, or searching to find out where that was, assuming it was somewhere that actually existed), when suddenly the peace of their perfect morning, or the fugue state they were gradually entering, was shattered by an all caps BREAKING NEWS message.
The news was bad. Extremely bad. Jimmy “Jimbo” Cartwright, III, founder and CEO of Finkles, had lost his battle with intestinal cancer, and had died at the age of one hundred and thirty. The actual message read as follows:
CANCER SCOURGE CLAIMS FINKLES JIMBO!
Now this kind of thing didn’t happen all that often. In the Age of the Renaissance of Freedom and Prosperity, given the rather staggering cost of intra-provider coordination (and the corresponding loss of advertising revenues), these multi-platform BREAKING NEWS messages were normally reserved for horrible accidents, or catastrophic hemispheric weather events, or the thwarting of devastating Terrorist attacks by the various corporate Security Services. The death of a single individual, even an extremely important individual, like a CEO, or COO, or the head of some Info-Entertainment conglomerate, newsworthy though it may have been, hardly warranted interruption of the constant flow of Info-streams upon which the global economy depended and to which most of the Normals’ eyes were glued at every waking moment.
But then Jimmy “Jimbo” Cartwright, III, was not just any important individual. No, “Jimbo” was a larger-than-life individual, an embodiment of the spirit of the age, a living symbol of all that was good and right in the world in the 27th Century. In addition to his bold and steadfast leadership of Finkles and the Finkles Family of Companies, and his tireless philanthropic activities, and generally serving as a living beacon of dauntless entrepreneurial vehemence, interdependent market fervor, and freedom, and, well, an inspiration to all, he was one of the shrewdest large investors in the annals of public and private equity, whose every random homespun utterance was parsed for meaning like Delphic prophecy. A quadrillionaire by the age of forty, with luxury condos and country estates in the most exclusive Communities in the North, where he hosted extravagant V.I.P. galas for A-List celebrities and the super-abundant (a limited selection of photos of which were sold to consumers and traded avidly), and being just unimaginably wealthy, and this quasi-Arthurian father-type figure whose face you saw like twelve times a hour beaming secret enlightened wisdom down at you out of some virtual screen, the news of his tragic and untimely death was a crushing emotional blow to the Normals, many of whom felt like they were facing the loss of a much loved member of their personal families.
People broke down and wept in their smoothies. They choked on their anti-oxidant breakfast bars. Those with irritable bowel syndrome (more than you would probably like to imagine) shuffled, or kind of crabwalked their way, to the nearest available waterless toilet. Families joined hands at breakfast tables and recited prayers and affirmations. Networks interrupted programming. Servers flooded with Fleeps and Tweaks. Luminaries were reached for comment.
All this went on for several minutes.
Once the initial shock had worn off, and the heartbreaking news of the death of “Jimbo” had been moved down to the headline creeper that scrolled across the bottom of everyone’s screen, and the various medications they were taking, the doses of which they had immediately increased, had upped their serotonin levels, and bound to their benzodiazepine receptors, flooding their brains with a mild but measurable sense of inner peace and well-being, the Normals went back to consuming their breakfasts and scanning their individualized streams … sad, yes, definitely sad, deeply sad (very, very sad), but not in any debilitating, or excessive, or self-indulgent way that might have negatively affected their performances at work (which they knew were being continually monitored) or caused anyone to feel uncomfortable, because deep down, in addition to the meds they were on, they just knew in their hearts (and they reminded themselves on a daily basis with their affirmations), that the sadness they were feeling was just a feeling … a feeling that would eventually pass, and that all they had to do was detach from the feeling, and try not to label or to judge the feeling, or the painful event that had triggered the feeling … because everything, even painful events, like the tragic and untimely passing of “Jimbo,” or even just frightening and horrible facts, like the scourge of aggressive intestinal cancer, or colon cancer, or prostate cancer, or malignant melanoma, or frontotemporal dementia, or the more or less constantly imminent threat of a sudden and devastating Terrorist attack, or catastrophic weather event, or some other type of horrible accident, or even the knowledge that they, the Normals, represented the last generations of the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, which due to a flaw in its genetic sequence was gradually being phased out of existence … all of it, everything under the sun, no matter how frightening, or depressing, or horrible, or incomprehensible, or completely nonsensical, was part of some perfect, ineluctable, convoluted cosmic plan, or story, or evolutionary process, or had something to do with the concept of progress … and anyway they were due at work, and the BREAKING NEWS message was gone from their Viewers, which were streaming and fleeping and tweaking again and …