In 2014, halfway through George Blush’s fourth term as president of God’s United States, the world is in terrible straits. Term limits have been eliminated and civil liberties suspended indefinitely. In Time of War, all media are owned by the government controlled Foxy News and all dissent is a crime. Abroad, the United States fights wars in Pakistan, Indonesia and Colombia, while Europe is flooded by millions of war refugees and has suspended diplomatic relations with Blush’s regime.
Political prisoners are sentenced to “ultimate rehabilitation” in Homeland Security private prisons where their lives are offered up to sadistic gangs. Dissidents seek refuge in Canada, but are tracked by Homeland Security bounty hunters who use sophisticated DNA testing and voice recognition technologies. Such is the harrowing vision of the future delineated by Dawn Blair, a pseudonym for New York-based journalist Jonathan Greenberg, in America 2014: An Orwellian Tale.
The novel follows the journey of Winston Smith, named after the protagonist of Orwell’s 1984 by hippie parents. Smith, a young government propagandist who experiences a political awakening following a run-in with his boss, is jailed for “subversive behavior in the first degree.” He is subsequently freed by the Resistance, a group of hackers and direct action activists hiding out in Bed-Stuy, who hope to use Smith’s propaganda skills against George Blush and Dick Croney’s repressive government.
Stylistically, America 2014 is a far cry from Orwell’s 1984. At times didactic, the novel’s reach is constrained by one-dimensional characters and unconvincing dialogue. Yet the plot is surprisingly engaging, offering a gratifying element of suspense, and the premise is deeply thought provoking. I found myself wanting to discuss this book with everyone I knew, to debate which of Blair’s disturbing predictions for the future were credible, which were far-fetched enough to make the satire brittle. America 2014 walks a thin line between visionary and paranoid, which may ultimately be a strength in the debates it has the power to provoke.
While I doubt the likelihood in ten years of Predator Drones sweeping down from the sky and instantly destroying suspected “subversives,” it is undeniable that the foreign policy Blair imagines is straight out of the neocon’s Plan for a New American Century. Foxy News’ propaganda-centered stranglehold on the media strikes uncomfortably close to home in this time of media consolidation and “embedded reporters.”
If not great literature, America 2014 is nevertheless highly readable and provocative, a call to action in the face of an administration whose assault on civil liberties, international law, and truth would make Orwell write another book. You will want to join the Resistance, before it’s too late.