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The Future


The Future

What exactly is the distinction between utopia and dystopia? What is the line between deception and protection? Is it possible to destroy the world to save it? And is it right to destroy a wicked and doomed world if there are 50 righteous people in it? What if there is just one? Naomi Alderman’s thrilling new novel, THE FUTURE, explores these themes, adding a healthy dose of high tech and more than a splash of romance.

In the very near future, three powerful tech companies, led by a trio of brilliant but flawed humans, all but rule the world. Ellen Bywater of Medlar, Lenk Sketlish of Fantail, and Zimri Nommik of Anvil control more than just global media consumption; they seem to hold the future in their hands. Their choices and actions have a great impact on those closest to them, including business associates, children and spouses. As the planet seems poised for a new plague, ecological disaster or socioeconomic collapse (or all three), Bywater, Sketlish and Nommik --- contributors to the large-scale problems --- assert that their work can be part of the solution. But privately they are prioritizing their own survival.

"Alderman clearly had fun with this novel, which is peppered with humor amidst dire circumstances.... THE FUTURE is a fun, optimistic, timely and thoughtful read."

Watching this, and refusing to feel helpless about it, are Martha Einkorn, an assistant to Sketlish; Selah, Nommik’s wife; and Badger, Bywater’s adult child. They, along with ousted Medlar exec Albert Dabrowski, hatch a scheme to get the billionaire bigwigs out of the way and maybe save the world.

Martha’s work is bolstered by her past and complicated by her emotions. As the rebel daughter of Enoch, the prophet of the doomsday religious cult the Enochites, Martha’s childhood was full of cryptic sermons about the ills and powers of civilization and an actual need to survive (as a girl, she killed a bear). As unstable and dangerous as her father was, his teachings prepared her for her work with Sketlish and to spearhead plans to unseat him and bring about positive changes in the world. Just as these behind-the-scenes plans are taking shape, Martha meets Lai Zhen.

Zhen lived through the Fall of Hong Kong and grew up to be a famous internet survivalist. Her affair with Martha is very brief but just as intense. And when they part, Martha leaves Zhen with a tool called AUGR, which helps her thwart an attempt on her life. Zhen then sets off on a journey to outrun danger and search for answers. It takes her across Europe and back to North America before she finds herself stranded with Bywater, Sketlish and Nommik in a life-and-death situation that just may be the actual end of the world.

THE FUTURE is not particularly long but feels sprawling in a number of ways. Alderman moves her characters wildly through time and space, actions and emotions. The story has many moving parts and often comes together, clicking into place satisfactorily before moving on to new plot points and machinations. There are some interesting twists and turns and cool uses of technology, gadgetry, survivalist fantasies and Torah stories debated on discussion boards. Alderman clearly had fun with this novel, which is peppered with humor amidst dire circumstances.

Although the narrative can be a bit too loose or disjointed, action-packed yet somewhat slow at times, overall THE FUTURE is a fun, optimistic, timely and thoughtful read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 1, 2023

The Future
by Naomi Alderman