Previously this week I read the book The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel which involves a future baseball league that began as a splinter organization to allow augmented players. I described that novel as if Robert Coover wrote Blade Runner. Now this novel (which predates that novel by about a year — and I think it’s only fair to assume both writers were working independently respectively) is more like what if WP Kinsella wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. See the difference?
Well, actually the Body Scout was a kind of cyberpunk noir and this book is more of a dystopian/resistance novel. It’s also much more satirical than The Body Scout, at least form.
Anyway, the novel takes place about 30 years into the future where the now-called United States of Automated America is run by a near-sentient AI called the Autonet, which is referred repeatedly in the novel as Auntie Net. Rather than Big Brother using nonstop surveillance to watch our every move, this novel suggests that algorithm-derived metadata will be more than enough. For me, this works specifically in the sense of Foucault’s version of surveillance, in which all single, small units of movement is hypercontrolled to the point at which we begin to police ourselves, not requiring any kind of top-down model, but a network of surveillance that is much more lateral. Interestingly, Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish, in a section called Micropolitics, the concept of the movements of soldier’s bodies being some segmented and controlled as to dictate the placement of every finger, the angle of shoulders, etc. The nature of baseball and the ways in which batting stances, pitcher movements, finger placement all allows for the same kind of precise control.
So it’s the future, and among other things baseball has been phased out (more in a Fahrenheit 451 kind of way) but Gwen is born with a preternatural genetic predisposition for the exact kinds of traits that would make her a superior pitcher. She’s born a “surplus” basically nonwhite (or mostly nonwhite) citizens who are not allowed to become productive members of society. Most labor is automated, so the only people who do any kind of work have connections in general. The rest are just around, eating their free food, languishing on nonmovement and whatever petty entertainment is available. Don’t like it? Well, you can become outcast, literally thrown into the rising oceans. Anyway, Gwen’s parents (her dad is the narrator) want her to play and do something, so they begin to organize underground baseball teams and games. This means finding ways around the surveillance state. This also means that Gwen’s dad’s ability as an electronic tinker allows for the creation of the necessary tech to do this. But don’t mistake resistance for The Resistance, because this book is about the process, and not the goal. The rise of underground leads to the reinstitution of baseball at large, and Gwen’s talents get her to college, where our story goes from there. The novel is mostly parodic in nature, and the world is a little simplistically created, but that’s kind of just literary sci-fi for you. The story is enjoyable and the writing well-done.
I read this last year not knowing it was connected to The Resisters until I was already done. Well, you’d be surprised to find out that rereading it after reading the novel makes things a lot easier. This is a sequel to the novel, where our young characters are now middle-aged and we’re in the after. I won’t get too much into it except to say, I do find it a little funny that a novel that works with themes about the dangers of algorithm and data-driven automation…well, an Audible Original is a little funny.