Peter Tylee's Freedom Incorporated constructs a gritty, dark future of what may happen if we let corporations have free reign without the proper constraints of democracy. It is set far enough into the future that it the author is free to imagine far-fetched technology like space-time bending transporters, but close enough to the present that it can logically extend from current trends, which are incredibly frightening. In many ways, the book serves as a wake-up call to where we are heading as a human society, if we allow neoliberal capitalism run its full course, unchecked by the restraints of democracy. Many science fiction writers clearly grasp the libertarian ideals of freedom, but they fail to understand the important role that the state can play in ensuring those freedoms for ordinary people. Generally they construct the state as the enemy, but Tylee clearly shows the dystopia that arises when states loose all power over corporations. Democratic freedoms crumble for ordinary people, who are subjected to toxic contamination, electronic surveillance, ruthless censorship, and summary execution.
The geek in me loved how Tylee depicts computer networks and the efforts to hack them in the year 2066. As a computer programmer myself, I found Tylee's descriptions of corporate security measures to almost be believable. Most of all, I loved the depiction of people who hack the technology to promote their anti-corporate message of freedom.
Tylee's depiction of how corporations control the planet through the "World Economic Forum" is frighteningly prescient, if we project from current trends. Likewise, his projections about electronic surveillance, toxic pollution and the privatization of water are not far fetched, considering the malfeasance of corporations at present. Everything that Tylee describes is a logical extension of what is already happening, which is what makes Freedom Incorporated such an outstanding work of science fiction. Following in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World, Tylee constructs a frightening dystopia which is really a commentary on the problems of our present society.
There are a few areas where Tylee falls short in his projections of future dystopia. First of all, the characters live in a world of abundant energy and food, but global climate change and peak oil make these scenarios very unlikely. Just as Tylee describes the brutal control over clean water, I would have liked to read how people would live in a world of brutal rationing of food and energy, where the wealthy take the lion's share and the poor are left with the scraps.
The protagonists in Tylee's dystopia are flawed in ways which make them real. Some of the corporate bad guys are a little too cookie-cutter and one dimensional to be believable. I much preferred Tylee's sympathetic depiction of the corporate network admin to the unexplainable sadism of the lead corporate assassin.
If I have one gripe about the book, it is the unrealistic corporate takeover at the end. Yes, shareholders can be gullible, but Tylee skips over the details as if he knows it is implausible. The happy vision of the female protagonist getting her own plot of land and sailing in her boat on the sea was also not very plausible, but her decision to continue her environmental activism and working to create a democratic social movement against corporate malfeasance was a refreshing ending to the book.
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