Imagine a world in which there are no more nation states but instead designated areas which are controlled by a network of giant corporations; where there is no more “citizenship” but only workers for said corporations; where books are outlawed and only the official history of the corporations is allowed, the world's past completely wiped out and rewritten to serve the corporation's needs; where the corporations have every one of their “employees” under surveillance and anything they do must be for the benefit of said corporation. History, language, tradition, nationality and ancestry have absolutely no place in this future world. For the corporations even own one's genes, thereby wiping out any sense of ancestry, creating an obedient working class to serve their every need. This is the nightmarish world Christine Aziz depicts in her chilling tale “The Olive Readers.”
Set a few hundred years in the future, it has an interesting narrative device, where the main protagonist, Jephzat, is speaking to the reader from a future yet to come. She and her family reside in the Olive Producing Region and there had just been yet another war, where dissenters have “disappeared” and soldiers, sent by the ruling network of corporations, are quartered in their homes, where there every move is watched, every thought monitored and every utterance a potential threat to this new society. Unknown to the ruling corporate elite is a group who call themselves “The Readers”, who are secretly smuggling whatever surviving books remain and storing them in a secret library inside Jephzat’s family home. When Jephzat’s sister disappears under mysterious circumstances, her parents are quickly whisked away and relocated by The Company and Jephzat is ordered to remain behind, completely unaware that this shadowy rebel organization is operating out of her house. She is alone and everyone else in town is suspicious of her due to her younger sister’s relationship to the soldiers who had been quartered in their home for some time.
Soon she meets Homer, an olive picker and long time member of “The Readers” whom she saves from the Company Commissioners. They soon fall in love, Homer gradually leading her towards her destiny. After a traumatic event that takes place within the house, Jephzat is then set on course that not only endangers her own life, but the lives of everyone in town as well and she’s faced with a stark choice in order to change the very fabric of the society in which she lives.
I kept thinking Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood while reading this, with it’s nightmarish vision of the future. It is a “political” book without being preachy and it’s heavy ecological overtones hint at what kind of future lies in store for all of us the more and more corporations insert themselves into our lives. But this is not typical Science/Speculative fiction. It is written in a very literary style, that in its early pages recall “1984” or Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”. It is a cry for freedom of knowledge, freedom of thought and freedom of expression and how little by little we are surrendering that to the multi-nationals who often want to dictate what we get to see, read, think, and say, and this nightmarish world is the logical progression humanity would take the more and more it surrenders its critical thinking capacity into the hands of those who wish to do the thinking for them. The second half of the novel departs a little from the narrative tone set in the beginning but it in no way takes away from the narrative flow of the story or it's main message here, which is how precious our natural resources are, the most important besides food, water and air, our diversity of traditions and culture and even most importantly, the human mind.
This is a very interesting take on the “Dystopian novel” with a very unique premise and any fan of this type of fiction will find a very enjoyable read here. Definitely recommended for its originality and it’s fine writing style.