IMAGINE an imminent future world where the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has utterly triumphed.
That’s the premise of Stephen Oram’s extraordinarily gifted, detailed and believable novel which projects the consequences of current economic and social trends forward a decade or so to a country run for and by five big multinationals.
They have replaced all state functions in a society whose inhabitants are constantly monitored and controlled through the enervating intrusiveness of Facebook and LinkedIn and the rapaciousness and cruelty of Atos.
Their status and income — the Fluence of the novel’s title — is measured through their compliant popularity on social media.
Into this dehumanising world, Oram introduces two flawed protagonists who each in their way challenge the control and assumptions of a corporatised society.
Amber and Martin work for the Bureaucracy, the organisation used by the corporations to manage the rainbow-coloured social stratification system — with red at the top and violet at the bottom — that underpins their control of the populace.
Amber’s motivation is purely personal. She’s been stealing data in order to better manipulate the system’s algorithm to ensure her promotion to a higher level.
But Martin, a more politically motivated family man, is in danger of slipping down to a lower tier and is worried about his son Max.
When we first encounter her Amber, a desensitised apparatchik, is coolly fulfilling the Bureaucracy’s requirements not to re-classify citizens clearly unfit to work.
Martin is more compassionate but constrained by his own fears for his status and that of his family.
They are linked not only by what they do but by the fact that Max is Amber’s blackmailer.
Oram takes his characters on a Dantesque journey into a world devastated by fear and greed, from the patrician “reds” down to the “outliers,” those who have opted out or been pushed to opt out of corporate society.
Both Amber and Martin suffer from the physical and mental sadism that allows those at the top to exercise their warped fantasies upon those at the bottom without redress.
The author has created a vivid and frightening vision and the resulting verisimilitude of a believable world just around the corner is an outstanding feature of this novel.
Sometimes the dialogue’s a little wooden and it’s a struggle to easily identify the different voices given to his characters, with many sounding pretty similar.
But maybe that was a deliberate ploy to underline the homogenisation demanded of people by big business?
The world of Fluence may soon be upon us and we must act to stop a pulsating piece of fiction becoming our terrible reality.