Twenty Forty-Eight is marketed as a satire on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (although it can be understood even without having read the latter). It loosely follows Orwell’s plot but in a different setting: a futuristic world controlled by global corporations where consumerism is the dominant driving force. The population is heavily subjected to surveillance, but for the purpose of determining their shopping habits. People are manipulated through propaganda, but for the purpose of influencing their purchasing choices and increasing their consumption. All of this happens under the guise of choice and free will. So it’s an extrapolation of the current situation in our society.
The protagonist, Howard Smithson Johns, works for the government but is unhappy with his job and his life, without understanding why. He starts a casual relationship with someone he meets – in this case, a homosexual relationship with a genetically altered man known as Nihils. He’s intrigued by a mysterious person he meets named O’Brien – in this case, an attractive woman, Katharine O’Brien. He ventures into an area of a city that he doesn’t normally go to, comes across an antiques shop and rents a room, naively believing it to be safe from surveillance.
He is on a quest to find ‘Real Truth’, which, for him, is about economics: determining whether there is a central place in society where economic policy is developed. He creates an AI character, Mick, to explore cyberspace on his behalf, reading archived documents and investigating the underworld. Meanwhile, he goes out exploring the real world.
The main theme of the novel is questions about economics: how much control governments have over it compared to the private sector, whether their goals are in alignment with each other, what economic growth is and whether there really is an overall economic plan for society. The characters have many conversations about these issues, and about historical economic development – in both real history and the fictitious history of the novel’s world. Sometimes it sounds as if the characters are giving speeches rather than talking naturally, though, and some of the dialogue is repetitive. The novel would appeal to people who have an interest in economics and politics.
Review by Chris Broadribb