Mike Brooks’ debut novel is an adventure story set in a dystopian future in which our taste for branding, consumerism and artificial reality is boundless. In /The Machine Society/, he weaves together psychological insight, philosophical reflection and spiritual inquiry to give us a novel that is both a deep satire on modern life and a rich metaphor for our longing to find inner peace. Dean Rogers lives in the Perimeter of New London, holding down a soul-destroying job, surrounded by people who have lost the will to communicate. He is afraid his debts will spiral out of control, resulting in him being cast out of the city, outside of the Security Wall. Meanwhile, in the Better Life Complex, New London’s rich elite live in plastic luxury, unaware of the sinister secrets that underpin their world. /The Machine Society/ is an original and intelligent sci-fi thriller, and a heartfelt rally cry for the soul’s liberation.
|Publisher:||Cosmic Egg Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Mike Brooks was born in Edinburgh, grew up in south Manchester, and now lives in London. After completing a psychology degree at the University of Central Lancashire, he trained as a journalist and went on to work for various newspapers and publications in Manchester, Yorkshire and London. He is currently the editor and communications manager for an international development agency.
Read an Excerpt
The Machine Society
Rich or Poor: They Want You to be a Prisoner
By Mike Brooks
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Mike Brooks
All rights reserved.
Part I: The Perimeter
'We must rid ourselves of the notion that humanity is an error. It is not. Even so, it is for each of us to work out what his life is for.'
Dean Rogers snapped awake, his heart beating hard, a stabbing pain in his stomach. With his eyes wide, he listened, dreading he'd missed the siren.
There was only silence.
Sighing, he pulled up the thin sheet and fidgeted, trying to relax his aching body on the hard mattress. Brilliant sunshine streamed in through the uncovered window. He lay on his back, arm across his eyes, and slipped back into his dream, the recurring dream, the one at his grandma's house, in the back garden, childhood days when the sunshine was softer ...
Then came the siren, wailing like a banshee. He shot out of bed. With two quick strides he was at the sink in the corner, checking both taps were fully turned on, then grabbing two plastic cups from the glass shelf. A cup in each hand, he stood, tense, waiting; aware of a sharp dryness in his mouth, the stultifying heat in the room, and the sweat on his naked body. He avoided looking in the mirror. He hated the dark rings under his eyes: he used to try and cover them using a cosmetic stick – male grooming – back when such things could be bought. Looking down at his thin body, he saw his stomach was flat; funny to think he'd once tried to get this effect through tortuous hours at the gym; now he'd achieved the same thing through involuntary adherence to the government's 'Watch your Health' campaign, which roughly translated as almost bare supermarket shelves.
A grinding, metallic clunk came from somewhere in the pipes behind the walls, winning back his full attention. The left tap spluttered. Water fizzed and spat out: a good clarity today. He waited for the first cup to almost fill up then, without missing a drop, switched cups. While the second cup filled, he emptied the contents of the first into a bucket underneath the sink. The water kept flowing. He jiggled his feet, suddenly desperate for a piss. When the second cup filled up, he switched again. Three, four, five cups ... half-way through the eleventh, the water stopped abruptly with an airy splurt. He continued watching the tap, willing it to come back to life, but no more came. Not a bad day – nearly two litres.
At some point the siren had stopped. After emptying the last half-filled cup into the bucket, he stood in the silence, trying to ignore the sharp pain in his bladder. Then, with one last look at the taps, he dashed over to the toilet in the opposite corner of the room. He sat down to piss, something he'd started doing recently, he didn't know why, maybe because sitting down felt like resting. He looked around his tiny flat – bed, chair, sink, toilet. It was small, but he had his own space. At least his job covered the rent so he didn't have to doss down in those dormitories on the outskirts of the city, close to the Security Wall. If you were in one of those dormitories and you lost your job, there would be nowhere else to go, just over the Wall, never to be seen again. He felt the dryness in his mouth and tried to ignore it; he would save his own water for later. Best to wait until he got to work, then he could drink their water. Even so, maybe a little sip wouldn't hurt? But that would be giving in: without self-control what have you got?
He ought to get going soon, he realised. Work didn't start for over an hour, and most days the journey took only twenty minutes, but the bus route was always changing, and if he was late it would be instant dismissal. He grabbed his overalls off the chair and put them on, sniffing quickly under each arm and grimacing. Snorting, he quoted out loud: 'We must rid ourselves of the notion that humanity is an error. It is not. Even so, it is for each of us to work out what his life is for.' He loved that book, The Machine Society by Erich Vinty. He'd read it maybe fifteen years ago – before the Security Wall went up. The militant atheists had accused Vinty of being a 'religionist' and called for the death penalty. The last he'd heard, Vinty had been held in detention for his own safety and then he'd suffered a mental collapse.
He sighed. Always alone: at home, at work. He thought about her again. Kneeling down, he reached under his bed and found the picture frame. Sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, he looked at the happy couple in the photograph. With his finger he traced around her face. They would have gone mad sharing a room like this. Why did he torture himself? Why didn't he throw the picture away? Their final conversation still haunted him.
'Working for who?' he'd yelled. 'I don't believe this. Last week you were agreeing with me that Krane Media are peddlers of lies and propaganda. Why are you being so twofaced?'
'Forget it,' Jane shouted, her eyes wet. 'You're right. I have sold out. But we need money, don't we? Your job hardly keeps us in the lap of luxury.'
That hurt. He'd spoken out on behalf of a bullied colleague at the school where he taught and got sacked for his trouble, along with his colleague. A job as a shop storeroom attendant in the Better Life Complex was the only work he could find. So what if it didn't pay well, at least it was a job. He'd started thinking about having a family and he didn't want Jane to work – then she'd announced she'd taken a job as a deputy assistant producer with Krane.
'What happened to your principles?' he said. 'And what happened to talking these things through? Isn't that what a marriage is about?'
'Oh, like the discussion we had before you got yourself sacked?' Jane pointed at her husband. 'You know, you talk about equal rights and all that, but deep down you're no different to other men. You're jealous because I'll be earning more than you.' Her gaze swept across the lounge as though she didn't recognise it. 'All your socialist beliefs aren't going to pay the bills. I'd rather be with a regular bloke who treats me like an equal than a right-on liberal who treats me like a shiz.'
'Frack you!' He'd spat out the words, shocked by the sound of his own venom. He'd never spoken to her like that before. She stared at him in disbelief, grabbed her bag and ran out of the house. That was the last time he saw her.
Dean put the photo back under the bed.
'Fracking work!' he said. Standing up, he checked in his pocket for his ID-card, then hurried out the door.
* * *
The bus weaved through silent back streets. Every day a slightly different route – that way the driver reduced the likelihood of encountering roadblocks. Dean had seen reports of hijackings on TV, though he'd never experienced one or met anyone who had. And what could anyone use to block the road? The streets were bare. Since the oil ran out, only a few electric cars had remained, and you needed a special permit to run one of those. The Safer Streets campaign was the government's rationale for removing all vehicles. But safer streets for whom? People stayed inside. When was the last time he'd seen a child playing outside? It was too hot and there was poison in the rain. And he rarely saw a cyclist. But no one argued against the government's edicts. What difference would it make?
He watched grey towers of concrete sliding past, entrances filled in with breezeblocks, windows boarded up, everything covered in graffiti, dust and decay. Despite the stifling heat, those buildings still looked cold. He winced and rubbed his chest, his heart tightening.
Not so long ago the bus would have been crammed full. Where had everyone gone? It didn't bear thinking about. No one made eye contact any more. No one spoke. There was nothing to say; each person reflecting the other's emptiness. His hand tightened around the card in his pocket, squeezing it until the plastic edge hurt his palm.
The journey dragged. These streets once teemed with life. Images like that could still be seen nightly on TV, if you could find a bar that had one. But where was this bustling life? Not in this part of town. Women in figure-hugging business suits rushing to work carrying take-away coffees, men with their briefcases, women in supermarkets with shopping trolleys full: where? A fracking lie! It must be. But so brazen? Dean detected the early warnings of a migraine – on top of everything. No respite. His dry mouth prickled and he thought about the water dispenser at work.
The bus juddered and slowed down as the driver negotiated an impossibly tight bend. Coming to a near-standstill, it then sped up dramatically as it came out of the turn. It reminded Dean of car chases in the action movies he loved when he was a boy.
Rounding the next corner, the dome of the Better Life Complex came into view: New London's central megadomicile: recreation and consumption from cradle to grave, for the elite who could afford it. The passengers stirred, sitting up, stretching, bracing themselves for the disembarkation procedure. They plunged into an underpass and soon they were pulling into the Complex's underground terminus. As they came to a stop, Dean checked his watch, relieved it was still early. He shuffled down the aisle and stepped out onto the security platform, automatically raising his arms for the tedious routine of checks and searches. He looked away, hating to see the malevolence in the guards' eyes. These guys were probably paid little more than he was, so why did they treat backroom workers like criminals? They might as well push them along with cattle prods. But then all workers hated anyone in a different grade, either envying those in a higher category or lording it over those in a lower one. When he started at Harding's Emporium, he had not fully appreciated how the pecking order worked. But he had learned quickly enough. Amazing how your fortunes can reverse: one day it was coffee and croissants in the staff lounge and saving up to splurge on a box seat at the Citadel Palladium; the next day you're glad of the first job you could find, with barely enough for a beer in a shizzy bar at the end of the week.
* * *
Dean sat in the corner of the storeroom at Harding's Emporium. The front-of-shop staff rarely came in here, and he'd never been into the shop; it was out of bounds. As long as he kept the storeroom neat and everything ran smoothly, the manager would leave him alone. Sometimes he'd catch a glimpse of someone through the goods hatch, but otherwise he could go for hours without seeing a soul. Except, of course, Jones, the delivery driver. But he wouldn't see Jones today. He sat close to the water dispenser: it was his water, as many as four cups for the day, and a kettle to heat it in. He shuddered. The storeroom hadn't fully warmed up yet. He thought about the adaptability of the human body and how it could acclimatise to massive changes in temperature – there was a time when he'd find 32 degrees unbearably hot. Not so now. Cradling the mug of hot water, he closed his eyes and felt a sudden urge to sleep, but something in his gut kept him alert, always ready for instructions relayed to him on the computercom. Forcing his eyes open, he scanned the dimly lit room, taking in the grey metal shelves stacked high with sealed boxes of trinkets and gaudy gifts: 'Recreate the ambience of historic sophistication in your home with luxury facsimile reproductions of genuine works of art in 100% plastic.' Glorified tat! The cheapest of these gifts cost double his weekly salary. But he didn't care about that. Just as long as he had a job. You had to count your blessings, and trust you couldn't possibly fall any lower.
At that moment, the storeroom door opened, making him jump. Little Clare stood there, a silhouette in front of the bright light streaming in from the shop.
'Hello!' he said.
She let out a shriek, then quickly put a hand to her chest and composed herself. 'Sorry, I didn't realise someone was in here.'
Standing up, he scratched the back of his head. 'It's OK. I guess I'm early today. I didn't mean to make you jump.' He wanted to say more but small talk didn't come easily.
'Quiet.' She put a finger to her lips, like a child caught creeping about the house after bedtime. 'Don't let the boss hear.'
'It can be our secret,' he whispered. What are you doing? Trying to flirt? He chastised himself. He'd already been down this road and discovered it went nowhere. When he'd started at Harding's – before he knew the rules, before he'd learned about the pecking order – he'd presumed it was OK to talk. He'd felt lonely in the backroom and Clare had looked the most friendly of the shop girls, in fact the only friendly one. Her style was less dramatic. The only thing she did with her hair was to wrap it in ribbons, which was nothing compared with the lacquering the others went in for.
'I was looking for something,' she said apologetically. She knew the storeroom was his patch: the pecking order worked both ways.
'Hey, it's fine,' he said. 'I mean, I don't mind. Is there anything I can get you?'
She cleared her throat. 'The New Deco clocks. It's for a front window display.' Her words speeded up. 'I've got this idea: just clocks. I mean, all the same clock. All set at different times – not the ten-to-two smiley face – different times. It could look really good if we ...' She stopped speaking. She'd said 'we'. There was no 'we' anymore.
He opened his mouth to speak, then froze. He remembered, on his first day at Harding's, the look the manager had given him when he caught them talking. The implication was clear enough: Know your place!
'Listen, no worries. They're up here.' He rolled a ladder into place and climbed up, reaching to the back of the top shelf to pull out a large box. It always pained him to handle these pseudo antiques. He had a degree in the History of Design and an Advanced Degree in ceramics. He knew all about Art Deco and the work of Clarice Cliff and Pavel Janak, but what did that matter now? People didn't want facts anymore. 'Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story,' his university lecturer had said. 'Focus on the romance, the violence, the sex.'
Balancing carefully, Dean climbed down the ladder, one arm wrapped around the box, then stood before Clare. This was the closest he'd ever been to her.
'Thank you,' she said.
He glimpsed her parted lips, noticed her softness, her clean smell. She took the box, and he stood back, letting his gaze fall to the floor while she left the storeroom. Looking up, he saw her glancing back before she closed the door.
Locked in again. He'd reckoned Clare didn't struggle like he did; she didn't get the bus like him each day. That meant she must live somewhere in the Complex. How on earth could she afford that? Rich parents, no doubt. She seemed capable of a lot more than shop work. She could probably afford to have aspirations. So could he, not so long ago. He remembered running home to see Jane. 'I'm going to get a post at a decent university,' he'd announced as he walked in the door, throwing down his coat and striding into the kitchen. 'I've been thinking about it for ages. But today I realised I should just go for it. I want students who really care about the subject. It'll bring in a good steady income. I can lecture part-time and get stuck into research. Maybe it could lead to a book? I could get a few papers published first, make a name for myself. We can rent somewhere bigger, somewhere with enough room for kids ...'
'Kids?' Jane turned round, apron on, her hands covered in flour. The alarm in her voice silenced him for the rest of the evening.
Shaking his head, he returned to his seat next to the water dispenser and finished off his mug of water, now tepid. He felt his stomach churn. He'd once read there is only happiness in the present, if you 'live in the moment'. But how do you do that? He closed his eyes and felt the emptiness in his belly and the broiling tension. There was something lurking there, something he kept trying to ignore. This time, rather than ignoring it, he reached for the hidden feeling. He could sense himself getting nearer. Be patient. What is it? Now very close ... It's fear. The realisation hit him physically. He felt the knot in his stomach loosen slightly. But fear of what? An image came into his mind: the Security Wall glimpsed through the gaps between skyscrapers, always in the periphery. It was fear of the Wall. Not the Wall itself but whatever lay on the other side. Then he knew: he was afraid of annihilation.
Excerpted from The Machine Society by Mike Brooks. Copyright © 2015 Mike Brooks. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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