I remember the hit “Damn Scientist” shirt design on Threadless, which featured a plain t-shirt that said:
“they lied to us.
this was supposed to be the future.
where is my jetpack,
where is my robotic companion,
where is my dinner in pill form,
where is my hydrogen-fueled automobile,
where is my nuclear-powered levitating home,
where is my cure for this disease.”
Daniel Suarez‘s thriller Influx answers that question–in it, the government is gobbling up all that advanced technology, hoarding it away from the public and other countries. The government launched the Bureau of Technology Control (BTC for short) in 1948 to monitor new technology and its social implications. The Bureau started spying on the Albert Einsteins and Alan Turings of the world, the rebellious free thinkers on the brink of miraculous discoveries. And thanks to the BTC’s quickly snowballing accumulation of technology, they are now wildly ahead of the rest of us. Any scientific discovery too miraculous, and they swoop in like the hand of god, magically disappearing all involved.
As the head of the Bureau of Technology Control explains:
Mankind was on the moon in the 1960’s. . . That was half a century ago. Nuclear power. The transistor. The laser. All existed even back then. Do you really think the pinnacle of innovation since that time is Facebook?
They offer scientists and engineers two choices: work for the BTC, or become a lab rat as they pick apart your genius brain.
So the Bureau of Technology Control has been growing like a massive sponge, absorbing all the great discoveries of mankind since the 50’s and using them for their own good. At this point, they’re out of the rest of the government’s control–no one has tried to stop them in years, and those that do try to stop them just don’t exist anymore. The organization has lost control of itself, as well. There are splinter BTC’s in other countries, not all of them run by humans. Technology control is not an easy task.
And trying to imprison the world’s geniuses and keep their discoveries secret is a tall order, even for a renegade government organization. Jon Grady is the BTC’s most recent victim, as he’s created a gravity mirror which has huge implications for physics, but also weapons. Without the BTC, it could earn him the Nobel Prize. With the BTC’s existence, it earns him some hard time in a harsh, artificial intelligence-controlled prison.
This is a science thriller, mildly similar to Franck Thilliez’s Syndrome E series, but instead of rogue serial killers Suarez takes on a rogue government organization. Suggesting that technology is highly advanced, but kept secret from the public, allows for a bunch of bizarre and fantastical scenes, including a memorable anti-gravity battle in Detroit. There is a period in the beginning of the book when Jon Grady is imprisoned in the high-tech BTC facility, where the lines between the tech and Grady’s own biology blur and everything gets pretty gruesome. I was relieved when the prison scenes were over, although Grady’s mind games with his captor were interesting to read.
If you like your reads fast and furious, but don’t like them to make you feel stupid in the process, this is a great book for you. This isn’t the tense, slow burn of a suspense novel, but the wham-pow of a world in which we all want our jetpacks and robot companions, dammit. And Jon Grady is going to fight to make sure we get them.