Expiration Day
  • Expiration Day
  • Expiration Day

Expiration Day

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by William Campbell Powell
     
 

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Expiration Day is an insightful coming-of-age novel set in the near future by debut author William Campbell Powell.

It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction.

Tania Deeley has always been told that she's a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a

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Overview

Expiration Day is an insightful coming-of-age novel set in the near future by debut author William Campbell Powell.

It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction.

Tania Deeley has always been told that she's a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society.

Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania's life are not real?

Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth "birthdays," teknoids must be returned to Oxted--never to be heard from again.

Told in diary format, Expiration Day is the powerful and poignant story of a young girl coming of age and discovering what it means to be truly human by a talented debut novelist.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/03/2014
It’s 2049, and with most of humanity rendered mysteriously infertile, immaculately realistic robotic children called teknoids serve as outlets for adults’ stymied parental urges. Tania Deeley grows up believing she’s one of the few human children left. First-time novelist Powell gets the obvious twist—that Tania herself is a teknoid—out of the way early, focusing instead on the dilemmas that result. If Tania isn’t a real person, why can she perform music, grieve the dead, and even fall in love? And what happens to Tania when her parents’ 18-year lease on her ends? This story covers an unusually long span of time and comes out the stronger for it. The chatty 11-year-old who begins this diary-style novel is very different from the determined 17-year-old who ends it, but the transition is natural, and the essence of Tania’s voice stays true. Sometimes the exposition gets clunky, as in a weighty testimony about teknoid history and neurobiology toward the end of the book, but Tania’s creativity, pathos, and personality prove that she’s just as much a person as any flesh-and-blood human. Ages 13–up. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
05/01/2014
Gr 9 Up—It's the year 2049, and human fertility has drastically declined worldwide. On the brink of a societal collapse, the Oxted Corporation developed teknoids, highly sophisticated robots that stand in for children and are leased to surrogate parents. These teknoids are virtually indistinguishable from human children, and society has become relatively normalized to their presence. This is the world that 11-year-old Tania Deeley inhabits. As she starts secondary school, she begins to wonder which of her friends and classmates are human and which are robots. Even scarier, teknoids are returned to the Oxted Corporation on their 18th birthdays—they are truly children without a future. As Tania moves through adolescence, she begins to rebel more and more against a society in which teknoids are second-class citizens who are "deactivated" at age 18. This is an in-depth exploration into a dystopian society and what it truly means to be human, with many universal teen themes as well: music, romance, body image, family issues. Tania and her friends have believably complex relationships, with the added stress of figuring out who is and is not a teknoid and what that means for relationships. Taking place over several years, the story line, told through diary entries, moves at an uneven pace at times, especially as it races (confusingly) to the end. Still, fans of sci-fi and dystopian fiction will appreciate this tale.—Jenny Berggren, formerly at New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-03
In this coming-of-age diary, a girl navigates life in a dystopic near-future. By the year 2049, the world has become a rather unfriendly place for humans and robots alike. England is divided into color-coded zones, parts of the African continent are shadowed in mystery, and very few humans are still able to procreate. Any woman who can conceive and make it past the first trimester is whisked off to live as a Mother. The global robotics giant Oxted has filled the familial void with the teknoid, "an android that specifically looks like a child." Teknoids are upgraded several times to mimic growing children before the company reclaims them around the 18th birthdays, provided that the parents can maintain the illusion and never enter the Uncanny Valley of disbelief. Through the diary of Tania Deeley, Powell has created a terrifyingly plausible future. Readers follow Tania through six years of her adolescence, as she realizes she's a teknoid, finds love, embraces grief and ultimately discovers her own humanity. The author pays homage to the genre's giants while combining realistic characters (both human and android) and detailed worldbuilding with an unpredictably optimistic conclusion. In the end, the thoughtful balance of narrative and description and the well-paced plot are marred only by a mildly distracting subplot that unreels in interstitial "Intervals." An auspicious debut. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765338280
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
04/22/2014
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
1,370,370
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile:
HL760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Expiration Day


By William Campbell Powell

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2014 William Campbell Powell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3828-0



CHAPTER 1

Sunday, July 18, 2049

What a funny old day!

We got a robot today. And it was my eleventh birthday. So I thought I'd start to write a diary, because it was a weird day, and if you can't even write a decent diary when you've got something to write about, what chance have you got when the days are dry and dreary?

But I'm not going to start every entry with "Dear Diary" or anything so Victorian. That would be just so wet. Anyway, I want to decide who's going to read it. Whoever you are, my distant, unknown friend, I need to see you in my mind.

Maybe no one will read my diary, except me when I'm ninety. So just in case, "Hello, me-of-twenty-one-twenty-eight! This is me-of-twenty-forty-nine."

Maybe, though, my grandchildren are reading this. "Hello, grandkids! This is your dotty granny Tania writing, before she lost her marbles. I hope you've found me a nice home."

No, I don't hope any such thing. If I have to become anybody's granny, please don't let me be a boring granny. Instead I shall be a grand Dame, knighted for my services to the country, and I shall tell fabulous stories, mostly true, about my adventures as a spy, or a detective, or an actress. So by 2128 you'll need me, whoever you are, because there won't be many like me left.

And if you're just a boring old historian, or some kind of slimy-tentacled alien archaeologist called Zog from the Andromeda galaxy, trying to find out who on earth I am and what human beings were ...

Do you have churches in Andromeda, Mister Zog? Weddings, christenings, and funerals? Too much detail, I think, at least for today. Anyway, my dad is a vicar. And in these times he has a lot to do. He says thirty years ago the churches were empty. Now they're full. Full of unhappy people, looking for help to make things bearable. Looking for the little rituals that make things feel normal.

The church business is good. But vicars are still poor. Mum says he's keeping half the village sane, but still we live on people's cast-offs. We have Value Beans in the larder. Our vid is someone's old 2-D model. And our "new" robot is a reconditioned '44 model, donated by a kindly parishioner.

But we have a robot, a real, honest-to-goodness robot. And Dad says even the bishop only has a '47 model. Ted, one of the churchwardens, dropped him off. Him? It? I'm going to keep on saying "him" for now, as his voice was rather deep, and very "Home Counties."

We called him — the robot — Soames. It seemed like the perfect name for a 1930s butler — right out of an Agatha Christie 3-Dram. Dad activated him, and I watched as the eyes lit up for the first time. I asked Dad about that, and he smiled.

"Yes, there really isn't any need for glowing eyes. They're more for show, part of a retro look, that the psychologists say makes us feel more comfortable with them around. We see all the old-fashioned twentieth-century sci-fi movies, and we laugh, because they're so quaint. This is the same thing — robots deliberately made to look clunky and antique, and act like it, too, so we feel superior, rather than feel afraid."

We had to do an imprinting, of course, to get Soames to recognize the voices of his new owners, so that he'd obey our orders.

"Michael Deeley, primary registrant. Acknowledge." That was Dad.

"Acknowledged."

"Annette Deeley, secondary registrant. Acknowledge." Mum.

"Acknowledged."

"Tania Deeley, junior registrant. Acknowledge." Me, reading from the instruction manual and sounding very formal.

"Acknowledged."

And that was it. Soames would obey Dad, then Mum, then me. In that order. There were a bunch of other commands built into his brain that we couldn't override, sometimes called the Asimov Laws, after some ancient writer who came up with the idea. Dad says Asimov's original laws were very simple, but Soames's version had been made very complicated by the lawyers. So under stress any robot just became completely useless.

Anyway, we put Soames to work doing the washing up. He didn't break anything, but I could have loaded up the dishwasher myself in half the time. Tomorrow, though, he will be faster, because he's learned what to do and where to put the plates afterward.

And then, because it was the summer holidays, there was no school, so I got him to play table tennis, because it was my birthday and Dad said I deserved a treat for that. Soames spent most of the time picking up the balls, when he didn't crush them underfoot (two destroyed) or knock them into the lamp shade (one out of reach).

Then we took him around the house, showing him where everything was. So we can tell him to tidy the house now, and everything will find its way back to where it was on my eleventh birthday. Or whenever.

Big deal.

Okay. I'm not frightened of domestic robots, honest. But can you make one that can play table tennis, please?


Monday, July 19, 2049

Hmm. If you are Zog, that probably didn't make a lot of sense, did it? I mean, you must think that Soames is the height of our technology and I haven't said who I am and where I live and all sorts of stuff. ...

I'm Tania Deeley, though I did mention that in an offhand sort of way. Eleven years old — of course — and an only child. I live in a Green Zone village, just outside London, where my dad's the vicar and my mum's, well ... Mum. I go to school in the village. I don't really have any proper friends at school, but there are a few I play with sometimes. ... It's okay, I suppose.

Dad's busy right now — vicar stuff — and he's banished me upstairs, to the spare room with all his books. It's not really being banished if I'm here — it's my favorite place, full of treasure. Books. Proper books: books that have never been digitized. I've loved this place since I was tiny, and nobody ever told me the books were too old for me, so I just read whatever came to hand, curled up in the big reading chair, soaking up every word. For once, I'm not reading a book, but I am in the reading chair, snuggled up and rereading yesterday's diary entry in my AllInFone.

My new AllInFone, Mister Zog. Not reconditioned, for once. Not some parishioner's cast-off. It was yesterday's other present, my actual birthday present, as really Soames wasn't my present. It's got this sweet diary app that can either take voice dictation, or I can type on a full-size holographic projection keyball, and it's all encrypted, so no one can snoop what I write. I won't go on about it, in case you think I'm a gadget freak, which I promise you, I'm not. But it is neat. End of gloat. Done.

Mum's upstairs, too, pottering around, doing jobs, though Dad might call her down later. She helps him a lot with the counseling. When the "parents" come round, trailing the pieces of their broken world for him to put back together.

When their Ellie or their Sammy or their Vidhesh goes back to Banbury, everything comes apart.

Today it's Mr. and Mrs. Ellis, so that means it's their Julia heading back to Oxted. Oxted, Mister Zog? The Robot People. In Banbury. And before you ask, no, Julia's not their "Soames." She's their daughter. The polite word that the grown-ups use is a "teknoid." But I've spoken to her. She's just a Mekker. (Dad says that's not a nice word. So don't you use it, Mister Zog.)

Listen, Mister Zog, I don't eavesdrop when Dad's doing vicar stuff, but sometimes voices do carry. And then I can't help putting two and two together. So I've got a good idea what's going on right now. Mr. Ellis is taking the lead, while Mrs. Ellis is sitting, sobbing, as they explain to Dad how Julia's too much to cope with. How it was all right when she was little, it was just like having a real daughter. But she's grown up too much. ...

I'd asked Dad about it while we were waiting for the Ellises to arrive.

"Dad, why are they sending her back?"

"Because the illusion is broken. Because they can no longer believe Julia is their human child."

"But what's changed? I mean, she looks the same and acts the same."

"And talks the same? Yes. They wanted a daughter so very much. But they couldn't have a child of their own. So they went to Oxted and got themselves a teknoid."

"Teknoid?"

(Yes, Mister Zog. I only learned the word today, when Dad told me. So now I'm telling you. So just sit still at the back of the class and don't interrupt.)

"Sorry, Tan. Teknoid is from the Greek 'teknon,' meaning 'a child.' That's just your dad showing off his Greek from Theological College. A teknoid is an android that specifically looks like a child. So, yes, picking up from our chat yesterday, Oxted could make Soames look and speak and move exactly like a human. But it's incredibly difficult and expensive, so they don't.

"They have to do it for the teknoids, because we have to believe they're human. The thing is, Tan, if you don't do it quite right, it's really creepy. It's part of what vicars have to learn, to help them counsel people. The phenomenon is called the Uncanny Valley, after the title of the paper that first suggested the theory, back in the nineteen-seventies."

"So?"

"So something has happened to break the illusion, and Julia is now in the Uncanny Valley. The illusion is so fragile, maintained only by the initially strong desire for a child. Maybe it's an accident that's triggered it. Maybe it's just an accumulation of little oddities. I'll find out when they arrive. Either way, the illusion is ended, and the Ellises can't bear the presence of their unmasked teknoid. Love has turned to fear. And guilt. Which is what I've got to help the Ellises get through now."

At which, with perfect timing, the doorbell rang, and I scooted upstairs.

* * *

That made sense. Suddenly it's all over school that such-and-such is a robot, and it gets back, and the charade is over. The parents try to tough it out for a few weeks, but they know everyone else knows, and they buckle. Sometimes they move away, try to make a new start. More often they just make the phone call to Oxted. So I guess they're organizing the "memorial" service with Dad now. "Our daughter, sadly taken away before her time ..."

And then you see every kind of silliness that grown-ups can do. Blaming each other, fights — that's just the start. Divorce, suicide, even murder — though that last was in St. Mark's parish.

Just because nobody can have kids. Well, almost nobody. And nobody knows why. It's just something that's happened. Some said that it was all the radio waves and microwaves messing up our DNA. Others said it was the gigahertz radiation from all the computers doing it. Global warming and pollution got blamed, of course. And there were some really weird theories, too. There was one scientist who claimed that every generation lost a certain amount of information from the gene pool, so we'd just reached the point where we no longer had enough information left in our genes to build a fully working human.

Wow! So I'm a real rarity. An eleven-year-old girl. Just so you know, Mister Zog. If you have a waist, you really ought to bow. Otherwise you could wave your tentacles reverently.

So there's me (and a few like me). All the other kids in the world are just robots. Realistic robots — not clunkers like Soames — but like Julia Ellis, a near-perfect copy of a human child. Good enough to fool the maternal instinct. Good enough to stop the riots.

Even good enough to play with sometimes.


Sunday, July 25, 2049

Sunday. Family service, and Julia's Memorial Service. Pretty much as I expected. Photographs of her growing up projected in 3-D. A baby, sleeping peacefully. Flick. A chocolate-mouthed toddler, running in the garden. Flick. First day at school, angelic in her school uniform. Flick. Prize day — Julia collecting third prize for spelling. Flick. Flick. Flick.

Dad stands at the front, delivering the eulogy. A beautiful little girl, with a marvelous future. A life cut short, tragically short, by an unspecified illness. God has called Julia home. May He bring comfort to the parents.

Ted's yawning. He's heard it all before. The young mums and dads, with their own kids, look smug or terrified.

There's no body and no coffin, of course. That would be silly. Oxted has already collected Julia and taken her back to Banbury.

* * *

Dad was late back after the memorial, and he was in a foul mood because of it. He hates memorials; he knows they're necessary, but he hates the lies. "It's not why I became a minister," he says, every time.

Dad believes in God. But the Bible doesn't say anything about robots, and I guess that's confusing for a minister.

And when he's said that, he sighs and adds, "I wonder how they'll cope."

As far as I can tell, they never do. I said robots were "good enough to stop the riots." Well, they were and they weren't. We still have our riots, though robots have taken them off the streets. Dad says it's just that now we have them one couple at a time, in the privacy of our own homes.


Saturday, August 21, 2049

We're on our holidays.

We're going to a theme park, of course, because that's what everybody does. It's escapism, and the parks make no bones about it. "Let us take you back," they say, and they give you a week living in the past. Pick your era, there's a park to match. Any time — except the last thirty years, because that's a little too painful for most people. So, where do you think we're going, Mister Zog? With the whole of human history to choose from, we could go back to, oh, the time of the British Empire, or the Roman Empire. Oh, yes, there are such parks. Unfortunately we can't afford them, not on a vicar's salary. So we're going back to ... the 1970s!

It's so embarrassing.

* * *

I have to admit I was curious about the 1970s. When Dad said that was where we were going, I nearly threw a wobbly myself. Oh, Mister Zog, where do I start about the 1970s? I knew a bit from history — the Energy Crisis, the Winter of Discontent, the IRA, the birth of Thatcherism. And Mum's got some redigitized old photos — really faded because back then they couldn't make color dyes to last — which she says are of her granny and granddad at Blackbushe in '78 for a Dylan gig. She sounds so awed whenever she says the word "Dylan," like he was some amazing being from another planet, come to visit us. We've been listening to some of his music in the car to get us into the feel of the decade. It's all right, I guess, but I hope we don't have to suffer a Dylan tribute band. It's not the music, you understand, Mister Zog. I just think Mum and Dad will be too embarrassing.

But as for Great-Gran and Great-Grampy, I don't honestly know which is which. The hairstyles and clothing in the photo give nothing away — all perms and frilly shirts, and shades that make them look like weird half insects. Am I going to have to dress like that? It might be fun, but I think it's going to be just creepy.

We're in our hotel room now, and we've come in through the modern entrance. Once we've changed, we have to put our modern clothes into sealed storage, and stay in theme for the rest of the week. There's no vid (again. Why do we always go on holiday where there's no vid?) and no TeraNet access. They had computers in the 1970s, but they were huge things, with whirring tapes (yes, really) and disk drives the size of a car wheel. You could afford a computer if you were a big university or a hospital — they were called mainframes — and there were minicomputers and ...

Anyway. My point is that once again we're stuck in a techno-desert, and my folks have chosen to come here. When I finish writing this, I'm going to have to put my AllInFone into storage with the clothes and any other contemporary gadgets, and go down to the other lobby in the hotel — the 1970s lobby. I'm going to try and keep notes, but the rules say only pen and paper.

* * *

They caught Dad trying to sneak his AllInFone out of the room. There's a detector at the other door, which picks up the keepalives that all AllInFones have to transmit by law, and a very polite porter informed him, "You can't take that with you, sir."

"Oh, I didn't realize ..."

Which was a complete lie. Daddy, you'll have to confess that to the bishop — I was watching in the mirror, and I saw you look round most furtively as you sneaked it into your pocket.

We went down to the lobby.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell. Copyright © 2014 William Campbell Powell. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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