So our inappropriate in-house satirist, the award-winning playwright CJ Hopkins, has written this novel, ZONE 23, which we’ll be releasing in the next few weeks. (UPDATE — May 9, 2017, the book is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers, or you can order it from your local bookstore). We posted the first chapter, The Normals, back in March, as part of the relentless marketing campaign we’re contractually bound to appear to conduct on behalf of our pompous-sounding publishing imprint, Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant Paperbacks. We wanted to entice you with at least another excerpt or two before the book goes to press, but we didn’t want to publish another whole chapter without charging you for it (as that would be Socialism), so we’ve decided to go with a couple passages from chapters two and three of the book in which the narrator describes the two protagonists. Before we do, though, here’s the cover art and the blurb our marketing people came up with …
ZONE 23 … a darkly comic dystopian satire about being human, all-too-human, featuring two of the most endearing and emotionally messed-up Anti-Social anti-heroes that have ever rebelled against the forces of Normality. Set in the post-catastrophic future, in a peaceful, prosperous, corporate-controlled society where all dissent and non-conformity has been pathologized, and the human race is being genetically corrected in order to establish everlasting peace on Earth, ZONE 23 is a hilarious, heartbreaking affirmation of the anarchic human spirit, and a defiant departure from the norms of both the genre sci-fi and literary novel.
– Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant Paperbacks
The cover was designed by Anthony Freda and Dan Zollinger, a couple of extremely talented artists who we conned into spending numerous hours going back and forth via email with the author as he freaked out over every little detail. You’ve probably seen their illustrations in The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and other publications. They didn’t have anything to do with the blurb, which is entirely the work of our marketing team, most of whom hold terminal degrees in semiotics from elite universities that you have to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to attend and then wind up working in the marketing department of some shadowy operation like ours because you can’t get a job at those same universities, or at any other universities for that matter, and even if you could you would probably just get hounded out of your adjunct position by students who felt that your course material was invalidating their humanity somehow, so you’d likely end up working for us anyway, or else holed up in your basement apartment ripped to the gills on Gordon’s and Xanax, posting a series of bitter Twitter threads that no one would even “like” or retweet, or some other horrible scenario like that, which we don’t even want to mention here, because we’re trying to sell you a book, after all, not trigger a major depressive episode that will cost you thousands in therapy fees and probably take you months to recover from.
So, all right, let’s go ahead and get to those excerpts.
They’re just a couple of brief passages, really, describing the two protagonists, Taylor Byrd, an Anti-Social Person confined to Quarantine Zone 23, and Valentina Constance Briggs, a Normal from the affluent Residential Communities, each of whom, for different reasons (but really for the same larger reason), is locked into a life and death struggle with the Hadley Corporation of Menomonie, Wisconsin, and … well, we don’t want to give too much away.
Here’s the narrator’s description of Taylor, who by the time we meet him at the opening of our story has already royally screwed up everything and is staring up into the Asshole of Doom …
Taylor Byrd was an A.S.P. 3 … a Class 3 Anti-Social Person. “[A] person,” according to the DSM, “constitutionally predisposed to pervasive violation of the rights of others and disregard for social norms.” He stood just under two meters tall, was extremely disproportionally muscled, prodigiously scarred in all the standard places, extensively, if rather poorly tattooed, and just overall looked like a dangerous character. Which no doubt about it, he definitely was. By any definition of the word, he was. However, the only definition that counted was the one in the DSM XXXIII, which listed a number of hallmark symptoms commonly exhibited by Anti-Social Persons … more or less all of which Taylor exhibited.
Taylor, for example, was “prone to irritability.” He routinely “failed to plan ahead.” He “lied repeatedly” and “failed to sustain a consistent pattern of work behavior.” He often appeared to “lack remorse,” or “rationalize having mistreated others,” or “otherwise demonstrate an incapacity to process guilt and learn from experience, particularly experience involving punishment.”
On top of which, he drank, smoked, urinated in public spaces, abused an assortment of illicit substances, frequently used offensive language, was uncooperative, sexually promiscuous, disrespectful, and just generally unpleasant. All of which was noted in his file:
Now, whereas, in less enlightened epochs, a person such as Taylor Byrd would have been deemed an incorrigible criminal and locked away in a deep dark hole, probably for the remainder of his natural life, in the Age of the Renaissance of Freedom and Prosperity, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, had rendered the whole of Criminal Law and every edifice stemming therefrom as obsolete as the manual typewriter.
According to the DSM XXXIII, Anti-Social Persons like Taylor were neither evil nor maladjusted, but suffered an incurable medical condition, and could no more control their aggressive behavior than one could control one’s sexual preferences, or the color of one’s eyes or hair … OK, granted, you could always dye your hair, or have your irises surgically altered, which people did, quite often, actually, just like the vast majority of people (i.e., people over the age of thirty, the so-called “Variant-Positive Normals”) took some form of medication to curb their latent Anti-Social tendencies, all of which, for most people, worked like a charm.
Unfortunately, there were these other people, people like Taylor Byrd, for example, who were non-responsive to pharmatherapy and thus, sadly, were more or less doomed to a life of squalor and social deviance. The DSM was quite clear on this point. As difficult as it was to accept, Anti-Social Persons like Taylor were beyond the reach of modern medicine, so, regrettably, there was nothing to do but quarantine them, humanely, of course, for the good and safety of all concerned.
And here’s the narrator describing Valentina, who we encounter on that very same morning, in a padded cell in a detention facility, with her brain all scrambled and her life in ruins …
Valentina Constance Briggs, if one didn’t count the last five months, had led a perfectly normal life. She’d enjoyed a perfectly normal childhood, had attended perfectly normal schools, and had blossomed into a perfectly normal if somewhat striking and buxom young woman with burnt orange hair and dark green eyes, which she got from her mother’s side of the family. After university, she’d interned a bit, gone back and got her PhD, started her career, dated a while, and then met her future husband and married him. They’d honeymooned up on Hudson Bay, a popular, overcrowded resort for moderate- to fairly-abundant couples. Valentina’s husband, Kyle Bentley-Briggs (he’d taken her name, she hadn’t his) was the G-Wave Industries Associate Adjunct Semi-Permanent Assistant Professor of Info-Entertainment Content at the Bloomberg Virtual Community College of Communications and Informatics. It wasn’t Oxford or Yale or anything, but it wasn’t anything to sneeze at either. They lived in a three-bed, two-bath condo at 3258 Marigold Lane in the Pewter Palisades Private Community, whose accent color was Persian green. Valentina, until a few months back, had worked in the Histopathology Department of the Breckenridge (Senior) Medical Clinic, a high-end, mostly geriatric outfit that made a killing on phenomenally expensive cancer screenings and advanced cancer treatments for the affluent 100+ demographic, and was part of the Hadley Medical Group. She and Kyle were very happy. They owed about thirteen million on the house and ate out two or three times a week, usually on Pewter Palisades’ Main Street, often with Bill and Susan Foster, who lived next door on Marigold Lane and had a time-share in the Arctic Circle. In addition to the more or less standard package of company-sponsored retirement vehicles, they maintained a diversified, if rather conservative, portfolio of primarily blue chip stocks, the usual mix of pharmaceuticals, Security, insurance, bioengineering, financial services and global redevelopment. Although quite young, being both in their forties, the trajectory of their lives was clear. Kyle, whose IQ was 101, or 103, depending on the test, but who compensated for his average intelligence with a natural gift for networking and politics, was a rising star at BVCC, and was already being aggressively headhunted by global educational and marketing firms, who were always on the lookout for bright, young talent. Valentina, although less ambitious, certainly enjoyed her work at the Clinic, which planned to resume in some capacity, probably in her early seventies, once the children both she and Kyle wanted had reached the age of independence. They’d agreed on three, two boys and a girl, and had chosen a palette of traits for each of them, accentuating personal characteristics while preserving both filial and intra-sibling similarity. This was to be the year they started. The next six years would be the childbirth years, which would followed by twenty to twenty-five years of childcare, education, and so on. Their youngest boy, Marlough, they thought, would be off to college at the age of twenty. Valentina would be in her prime … sixty-eight, or seventy maybe, and would still have a good thirty years ahead of her to pursue her histopathological career. Assuming their investment strategies were sound, and Kyle’s career remained on track, they’d be able to cover the children’s education, healthcare and other basic needs, maintain a comfortable standard of living, prudently setting some funds aside to cover the routine joint replacements and organ transplants that everyone got, early-retire at ninety-seven, and move to a Flex-Care Seniors Community somewhere north of the 50th Parallel … or, at least, that had been the plan.
OK, that’s going to do it for the excerpts. You’ll have to buy the book to read the rest. It will be available in just a few weeks. We’ll let you know as soon as it is, at which point you’ll be able to order it from your local bookstore (assuming you still have one) or the vast and powerful Amazon corporation, or some other online content purveyor, or, basically, anywhere else in the world where quality literary content is sold.
— The Management