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An elitist bloom of youth: Laurie Penny's pharma-dystopia

Zacharias Szumer
Zacharias Szumer

Writer and musician currently living in Jakarta

Jakarta | Fri, January 6, 2017 | 01:53 pm
An elitist bloom of youth: Laurie Penny's pharma-dystopia

Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie Penny (Shutterstock/File)

In Everything Belongs to the Future it is the year 2099, and the first recipients of a powerful life-extending blue pill are approaching their centennial. However, this drug, dubbed “the Fix”, comes with a price tag that puts it out of reach for the poor and those not deemed worthy of a company-sponsored script. Naturally, not everyone is happy about this.

The story begins with several left-wing activists going undercover to an Oxford University ball to pocket as many of the pills as they can. After meeting one the drug’s inventors, who has grown weary of her eternal adolescence (she started “fixing” when she was 14), they join forces. However, one of the renegades turns out to be an undercover spy, which throws a menacing question mark over their plans to democratize immortality.

Everything is the first work of fiction from Laurie Penny, a writer who has made her name over the last decade as one of the left’s most acerbic new polemicists. And Everything sparkles with the wit and inventiveness that makes her non-fiction so fun to read. However, the story ultimately comes off as only a vehicle to deliver another one of her think pieces. And given that the radical left is Penny’s milieu, it’s disappointing that the characters come off as insufficiently developed caricatures.

(Read also: Book Review: Exploring animal magic in 'The Paper Menagerie')

True to the dictum that “Science fiction is not about the future,” Penny’s world at the end of this century is basically the last decade with minor exaggerations. Corporations limiting access to important drugs through exorbitant pricing? Look no further than 2015’s “Pharma bro” scandal. Police infiltrators using romantic relationships to gain closer access to activist communities? Try the Mark Kennedy case.  

In a more general sense, when you consider that the average lifespan across the globe has doubled over the last 200 years, but there are still massive discrepancies both between and within countries, the world of Everything is not very distant from our own, pill or no magic pill.

Medical advancement in a capitalist system increasingly challenges the dichotomy embedded in Marx’s remark that capital is immortal, even if its owners are not. In both the real world and Penny’s fictional one, money can buy you more time. Through her iconoclastic protagonists, Penny asks the question: what is the benefit of having longer lives if we cannot enjoy the time we have?


Title: Everything Belongs to the Future

Author: Laurie Penny

Publisher: Tor.Com Publishing

Year: 2016 


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