Expiration Day

Expiration Day

by William Campbell Powell


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Product Details

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

About the Author

WILLIAM CAMPBELL POWELL was born in Sheffield, England, and grew up in and around Birmingham, the "second city" of England. He attended King Edward's School in Birmingham and won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where initially he studied Natural Sciences and subsequently majored in Computer Science. He now lives in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, with his wife, Avis, and his two teenage sons. Expiration Day is his first novel.

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


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.


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


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


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."


(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 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.


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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Sunday, July 18, 2049,
Monday, July 19, 2049,
Sunday, July 25, 2049,
Saturday, August 21, 2049,
Interval 1,
Interval 2,
Interval 3,
Interval 4,
Interval 5,
Interval 6,
Interval 7,
Interval 8,
Interval 9,
Interval 10,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

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Text Type: Narrative

In the character of Tania, write a series of journal entries exploring the following moments from the story: Seeing the silver threads in your ankle; Going back to school after being repaired; Being with John; Working with your father to research your case.

In the character of Tania’s mother or father, write a letter explaining how you felt the day you received her from Oxted and how you imagine your relationship might have been different if you’d disobeyed the Oxted guidelines and told her she was a teknoid when she was small.

In the character of John, write a long email to Tania explaining why you’ve been out of contact, the truth about your identity as a teknoid and how you found out. Conclude the email with a thought as to whether you will or will not hit the “send” button.

In the character of Sian, write a letter to Tania describing your new life as a mother, what you wish for the children you will not raise, and what you hope for your friend.
Text Type: Opinion Piece

Should adults keep secrets from children and teens? For example, is it all right not to tell a kid they are adopted or at high risk for a genetically transmitted disease? Is it right to keep family financial or job stress secret from kids? How old is too old not to be in on such secrets? What secrets are probably not okay?

Should the government keep secrets from its citizens? For example, is it all right to send troops after a terrorist, and not let the public know until the operation is complete? When should a government tell citizens about outbreaks of diseases such as influenza? What argument could you make for keeping citizens “in the dark”? As a citizen, do you want to know everything?
Research & Present:
Cognitive Robotics

Online or at your library, find definitions for cognitive robotics, artificial intelligence and sentience. Imagine you are a reporter who has infiltrated Oxted. Write a newspaper-style article discussing what you have found there. Make sure to include all of the terms you have researched. Share your article with friends or classmates.

Divide into small groups to research Cognitive Robotics programs at colleges and universities around the world. Select one program that appeals to your group and create a PowerPoint or other multi-media style presentation to entice friends or classmates to apply to the program. Include the location of the program, degrees you can receive, the focus or philosophy of the program, and other details as desired.
Research & Create: Tribute Bands

William Campbell Powell uses the notion of “tribute bands” to show the way creativity is devolving. Make a list of the bands from the 1970s featured in the novel. Select a band from twenty-five or more years ago and make a playlist of at least four songs that you think might be popular in Tania’s world. Write 2-3 sentences explaining each song selection. Play your list for friends or classmates.

Imagine you are a musician forming a tribute band. Select any band (does not have to be old) to cover. Use colored pencils, paints, or other craft materials to create a poster advertising your band. Give your band a tribute-style name (not the same as the original).
Research & Perform: Shakespeare & Classic Children’s Tales

In the course of the novel, Tania makes subtle references to Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland to describe her own experiences. Imagine you are creating a film or television adaptation of Expiration Day. Using colored pencils, sketch a scene from your adaptation that incorporates images or ideas from one of these stories in your design. Or, write a new page for the novel in which Tania further explains how she sees herself as Pinocchio or Alice.

As she is trying to help Sian learn her lines for the school play, does Tania’s ability to inhabit the character of Portia affect your sense of her creative capacity? How might the ability to act—to take on another character—show us something about her humanity? Go to the library or online to learn more about the art of acting. Then, in the character of an Oxted scientist, give a presentation explaining what Tania’s acting ability reveals to your research community. Cite moments from the story and information from your research in your presentation.

Tania’s classmates are rehearsing The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. While Tania feels emboldened by working with Sian on the Portia role, another character in the story also resonates. Read Act III, scene one of the play, paying particular attention to Shylock’s speech. Imagine Tania giving this speech as part of the testimony during the lawsuit against Oxted. Adapt the speech for this purpose and present it to friends or classmates.

Supports English Language Arts Common Core Writing Standards: W.8.1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7; W.9-10.1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7; W.11-12.1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7
Supports English Language Arts Common Core Literacy Standards RL.8.9, 9-10.9; RL.11-12.7

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Ask each student to write a short essay answering one or more of the following questions: Do you think humanity will destroy itself someday? Have you read any books or seen any movies featuring end-of-humanity themes? How did they make you feel? What do you think is the best thing we humans can do to save our race from possible destruction?

Invite students to discuss the role(s) technology plays in their lives. What high-tech devices do they use to communicate, maintain health, do schoolwork or manage other tasks? What types of technology do they imagine will soon be common in modern life? Do they envision having robots in their home by the time they are adults? Do they ever feel worried about—or afraid of—certain types of technology? Why or why not?

Supports English Language Arts Common Core Writing Standards: W.8.2, W.9-10.2, W.11-12.2
Supports English Language Arts Common Core Speaking & Listening Standards: SL.8.1, SL.9-10.1, SL.11-12.1

Developing Research
& Discussion Skills
Character: Structure and Point-of-View

Expiration Day is written in a diary format. Over what time period are the entries logged? Are all of the journal entries directed to the same reader? Who is the reader to whom Tania directs her thoughts and why might this be important?

On page 46, what happens to Tania that causes her to experience a major shift in her sense of self? Does her journaling style change? At what other moments in the novel must Tania dramatically re-envision herself and her society? How does this affect the structure of the novel?

In her diary, how does Tania describe Amanda Taylor, Sian, John, Kieran, and Mike? What five words do you think each of these characters would use to describe Tania? Where would “teknoid” fall on this list (if at all)?

At a few points in the novel, Tania’s “reader” (“Zog”) responds. Describe these instances and the responses. How do you imagine Zog’s world in terms of how the journal was found, and the time period and setting in which the journal is being read?
Character: Relationships

Early in the novel, how would you describe the relationship between Tania and her classmates? Do you think her attitude toward them is nice? How do Tania’s opinions of her mother and father change through the story? Would Tania and her mother love each other more if Tania had been a human? Why or why not?

Describe the relationship between Tania and John. Do you believe they love each other? Do you think Sian minds that Tania in a teknoid? Explain your answers.

What inspires Tania’s father to start fighting for her rights? Has something, beyond the loss of Tania’s mother, changed in their relationship? Has Tania’s father’s perception of his relationship to his community changed?
Structure: Setting and Plot

The science fiction premise of Expiration Day is that in 2049 humanity is nearing extinction. What has happened to human fertility and human disease resistance to create this situation? How does the author reveal each of these situations to readers?

Do you imagine the physical world of Tania’s 2049 Earth resembles our own? How might it be different? What elements seem very familiar? Compare and contrast the structures of government and social classes today and in Tania’s 2049.

Consider Expiration Day in three parts: Tania’s childhood believing she is human, Tania’s adolescence knowing she is a teknoid, and Tania’s teenhood when her father embarks on his lawsuit. What are Tania’s greatest concerns in each of these thirds of the story?

Do you think most people really can’t tell the difference between humans and teknoids or is it a sort of unspoken fact—an open secret? What might be some similar “open secrets” in our world today? Is it dangerous to allow such secrets to remain undiscussed?

On page 290, Tania’s dad tells the court, “Oxted is peddling a drug called Parenthood.” Does this notion, the need to parent, drive the plot of the novel? What actions and behaviors does “parenthood” govern? What other “drugs” do you think the government is using to keep the human species from panicking over its impending extinction?
Theme: What makes us human?

How would you define the word “human”? How does your definition compare to a dictionary definition of “human”?

On page 181, Tania and her dad exchange the following dialogue:
“Speaking as your father, I’d say, you’re human.”
“Thanks. Unfortunately, that’s not what the law says.”
We always come back to that.

Is being human simply a matter of fitting a specific definition? Explain your answer.

On page 227, Tania writes to her future reader, “Nobody truly dies who shapes another person.” What does this say about Tania’s sense of humanity? How might this quote be read as a central theme of the novel?

Reconsider your own definition of the word “human.” Would you change it based on your reading of Expiration Day? Why or why not?

What choice does Tania make at the end of the novel? What does her choice prove to the scientists of Oxted? Is this the outcome you expected for the story? How does it make you reconsider your understanding of teknoids?

As you reach the end of the novel, to whose “expiration day” do you think the title refers? Explain your answer.
Theme: Creativity

In her diary entry for January 2, 2050, Tania comments on the absence of new music and new literature. She says: “Art is dying. Why?” How would you answer this question? Do you think that the government’s attempt to control a species on the brink of panic is to blame? Are teknoids incapable of making art? Or is there another reason?

Amanda Taylor, the musician who first inspires Tania, explains why she makes music. “I need to create…If I can’t create a baby, then I’ll create a song. It’s not much; it only lives for three minutes and it’s gone. But…” Finish her sentence.

On page 191, Sian mourns her fate as a career mother, birthing baby after baby and not being allowed to raise one. Tania muses, “…it all made a ghastly kind of sense, in a totally clinical, inhuman way.” How can the creative act of conception seem inhuman?

In attempting to preserve the species, do you think the leaders of Tania’s world are making mistakes that cause some key elements of “humanity” to be lost? What are the mistakes and what is being lost?

Supports English Language Arts Common Core Reading Literature Standards: RL.8.2, 9-10.2, 11-12.2; RL.8.5, 9-10.5, 11-12.5; RL.8.6, 9-10.6, 11-12.6
Supports English Language Arts Common Core Speaking & Listening Standards: SL.8.1, 3, 4, 6; SL.9-10.1, 3, 4, 6; SL.11-12.1, 3, 4, 6

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Expiration Day 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 6 months ago
This is a beautiful story about finding your place in the world and fitting into it. 10/10 recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
EXPIRATION DAY is a thought-provoking science fiction tale about a futur that's as terrifying as it is likely to happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago