Walter Mosley


"Futureland : Nine Stories of an Imminent World"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 14, 2001)

Ptolemy Bent is a genius. By state law he must be tested and given a proper education, ideally at the Elite Education Group, but his Uncle Chill says no way is he sending him to an institution. Chill dreams freedom and knows that the only way for his people to truly get it is by educating this child at home with his family, not by "sendin' Popo away to some white man's idea of what smart and good is. All they do is wanna turn him against hisself." He has until the child turns six to come up with the 3 million dollars required to educate Po-Po his own way. He resorts to the only true get rich plan left for the working poor.

Ptolemy does grow up to be the smartest man in the world, but we don't hear much about him until the end, although there are references to his RadCon6 group throughout. Mosley, instead, shares other stories about this imminent future. A future in which the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever and race relations still run hot despite the politically corrected "colorless society." The working "M" (the neutral reference for man or woman) has to do everything he or she can to keep from being unemployed and being forced to go to Common Ground, an endless underground chamber of beehive cubicles where up to three million jobless New Yorkers live in extremely close quarters, eating the same food everyday, and sleeping in shifts. When not sleeping they sit in gray waiting rooms with vid monitors showing pastel images of the outside world. Sheer boredom except for the occasional day pass above ground.

But to be a common employee is only a shade better. Neil works for General Specifix, a data production house, where he sits side by side in a crowded room with a hundred other "prods," most obese and bad smelling. The salary affords a small room, something that used to be part of a larger apartment, and all of the furnishings and appliances are rented, actually possessing anything is rare. This makes it easier for the system to quickly move the unemployed to Common Ground, as what happens frequently to the "cyclers." The good employee who works enough "ten-spans" gets rewarded with a two week holiday on an artificial Caribbean Island.

All working citizens have data chips that have tracers that can track their whereabouts at any given time. Law enforcement says it is to protect the innocent, the ACLU argues it's an infringement of constitutional rights. Losing your data chip will cost you a trip to the underground. Getting too many points at work for being tardy, slow, sick or insubordinate can also get you moved to Common Ground. The working M is always on the verge of becoming White Noise (permanently unemployable) in Common Ground.

The one true escape is a legal drug called Pulse, which allows the mind to drift into powerful fantasies, yet requires the user to re-dose every three days. Without it, the brain collapses. Since "cyclers" can't hold a job once they start Pulse, they can't afford more and thus they die of "Pulsedeath," a common everyday occurrence.

Then there's the legal system. One story tells us about the new "Sac'm Justice System," in which justice is determined by one machine that acts as judge, jury and prosecutor and another box takes the role of "defender." All in the name of giving an "objective" trial. Of course, if you're rich and can afford your own live attorney, the attorney can demand a live judge and jury.

Prisons are owned by corporations rather than government, which is easy since many corporations are sovereign nations by this time. One such prison is experimenting with "snake packs" to control the prison population as Bits Arnold, a member of the outlawed TransAnarchist Trade Union finds out. He, like every other prisoner, is given the "antisocial, lethal dose pack," rendering them nonviolent, non-persons. The ChemSys snake pack inhibits antisocial behavior as well as controlling the daily routine such as putting the M to sleep, awake, directing when to use the toilet, as well as acting as a lie detector. The snake pack can also be used positively, or negatively as it seems, for medical purposes. Prisoners get a random "Free Day" from the governing Snake Packs in which they are allowed to do or think anything, essentially relieving the stress and making it easier for the Snake Pack to resume its control. The one thing unchanged in this prison system is that the majority of prisoners are still Black.

All of the characters are developed well, but my favorite character is Folio Johnson, a hardboiled, cyber-augmented private eye who has been hired to find out who's systematically murdering rich, young Nazis. This style is Mosley's forte and he is no less proficient in this future landscape.

Futureland is a series of interlocking stories that take place only a generation or so away. Like any well founded science fiction writer, Mosley extrapolates from today's socioeconomic and technological trends to come up with a seemingly advanced world, but in truth, not too different from our own, just worse. At first each story seems to stand on its own and it's not clear how they are interconnected except the references to the future common reality. But as each story subsequently focuses on another detail of the future society, we see more and more of the wholeness of this novel. Like a series of revolutionary events that can eventually lead to freedom, each of these nine stories offers up its own unique solution, each leading to the final rebellion. But just as the individual stories end with a quiet contemplative statement, so does the final one and we are left to ponder does anything ever really change?

I highly recommend reading this book. As much as I have revealed here, it is only a fragment of Mosley's vision. The stories in this novel indulge the ideas that Mosley sets forth in his essay, Workin' on the Chain Gang, but goes deeper by demonstrating just how easy it is for technology to be used to take away our civil rights. Think about this, how quickly did Oracle offer up the software "free-of-charge" to help make national ID cards after the September 11th attack? I think "imminent" is the operative word in this book title.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 33 reviews

Read an excerpt from Futureland at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Easy Rawlins Mysteries:

Socrates Fortlow novels:

Paris Minton and Fearless Jones Mysteries:

Leonid McGill, P.I. series:

Crosstown to Oblivion:

Nonfiction:

Movies from books:

 

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Book Marks:

More reviews of Walter Mosley's books:

 

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About the Author:

Walter MosleyWalter Mosley, born in 1952, grew up in Los Angeles and has been at various times in his life a potter, a computer programmer, and a poet.

His books have been translated into twenty languages. Devil in a Blue Dress received the 1990 Shamus Award for "Best First P.I. Novel" from the Private Eye Writers of America and was also made into a movie starring Denzel Washington. His collection of short stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, a 60 year-old philosophical ex-convict, in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was also latered released as a movie.

He has been the president of the Mystery Writers of America and a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center and Founder of its Open Book Committee and on the board of directors of the National Book Awards. In 2002, Walter Mosley won a Grammy for "Best Liner Notes" for a Richard Pryor box set.

Mosley lives in New York City.

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