Posts Tagged ‘Fines’


84K cover(84K, by Claire North. Orbit. 2018, 452 pp., $15.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

As anyone who’s paying attention knows, the rich often get away with murder. In Claire North’s fine new dystopian novel, 84K, they always get away with it.

Why? Privatization: The takeover of state functions by corporations including, in 84K, the takeover of the legal and prison systems in the UK. As part of the revamping of those institutions, crimes, including murder, are no longer punishable by prison, but rather fines, unless the perpetrator can’t pay. So the rich get away with anything and everything, while the poor (“patties”) are thrown into private prison hell for paltry offenses, where they’re enslaved. (Not incidentally, enslavement of prisoners — the vast majority poor — in the U.S. is very common.)

In this laissez-faire nightmare of a society, human rights are nonexistent and money determines everything, including the value of a human life. Hence the title: 84K refers to the “indemnity” paid by the murderer of one of the book’s heroic characters.

That murder spurs the book’s primary character, “the man called Theo Miller,” into action after a lifetime of going along to get along, never standing up for himself or anything or anyone else. Theo is an “auditor” who assesses the fines, the  “indemnities,” for various crimes, based on the circumstances and the victims’ socio-economic status. Once he’s assigned to the “84K” murder and begins doing a more than perfunctory job, all hell breaks loose, sending him down a convoluted, dangerous path, which eventually leads to resistance to the ghastly social structures under which he lives, or rather exists.

84K has virtues aplenty. North does a fine job of showing the disastrous, degrading effects upon the poor of a privatized government (a fascist government in which political and corporate power are merged), and also the degrading effects upon the rich, who are callous, entitled, brutal, and who treat the poor as things to be bought and sold (literally) rather than as human beings. As well, North adeptly demolishes the standard bullshit talking points used to justify economic privilege and gross inequality, and to dehumanize those at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap.

The writing in 84K is skillful, with North adeptly shifting back and forth between past and present, and doing an unusually good job of portraying the primary character’s emotional and mental states. She does the latter in part through her use of idiosyncratic typography, something of which I’m most decidedly not a fan. But, strangely enough, for the most part it works, so I found it less bothersome than other instances of gimmicky typography I’ve seen over the years.

84K does, though, have problems. Theo is the only fully formed character, with most of the secondary characters being not much more than names attached to superficial physical descriptions. As well, it’s hard to buy some of the ways in which the poor vent their frustration in 84K, such as howling like dogs en masse for hours on end. The gratuitous, pointless violence North portrays as pervasive among the poor is also a bit of a stretch. And the resistance movement she sketchily describes is depressingly pedestrian, a standard authoritarian structure with, of all things, a “queen.”

If North had done a better job describing the forms a resistance movement could take, and the practices it could employ — see Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway for examples — 84K would have been a more useful book.

Still, there’s great value in pointing to the dangers of the screw-the-poor laissez-faire path down which both the USA and UK are plunging. So . . . . .

Highly recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a Spanish-English translation, a nonfiction book, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover