protecting corporations instead of people, as with Citizens United, it won’t be long before corporations become more important than people – if they aren’t already. Nicholas Soutter has imagined this world where corporations own everything, including people, in his dystopian novel The Water Thief.With the government increasingly
More 2084 than 1984, Soutter’s Kirkus Star winning novel follows Charles Thatcher, a worker considered to be of mid-contract value in a corporate world, who seeks to learn more about the long-dead “government” where people weren’t traded like stocks and no one owned the air.
The book simultaneously makes you grateful for the system of government that we have now, and afraid that our system could be headed its direction.
Soutter writes: “The only real check against corruption is vigilance. That was the death of republics: they thought the system was enough to protect them, that they didn’t need to be involved. Citizens let go of the rope, nobody voted, nobody got educated on the complexities of governing. And the corporations moved in.”
That section is eerily similar to our situation today. Voting turnout has been steadily declining since the 1960s, or people are being prevented from voting, and our citizens are losing their agency in the process. From Bush’s signing of the PATRIOT Act to Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), citizens have been losing their constitutional rights one at a time.
Soutter’s novel makes the reader realize that complacency about such losses could mean we lose any purchase on our government.
Fortunately, with the development of the Occupy movement and the acts of a few brave whistleblowers, we may avoid ending up ruled by corporations, but only, as Soutter suggests, if we’re vigilant.
With heavy doses of reality, Soutter does an excellent job of crafting this dystopian world and those who inhabit it. He isn’t afraid to point out the truths of being ruled by corporations and writes, “Like a person, the corporation only [does] what was in its own interest, only without the burden of consequences or conscience.”
Though this book takes place in the future, it bears a terrifying resemblance to our past. People are bought and sold as slaves. But instead of working on a plantation, they’re owned by corporations. Those who commit crimes are sentenced to death by hanging -while crowds of people tune in to watch on their televisions.
It’s hard to forget the hanging Soutter describes early in the book. It’s staged as a sporting event, complete with a panel of commentators. One of the commentators raises questions about the hanging of a man who committed the crime of trying to leave his job without buying out his own contract.
She says, “If he wanted to leave the firm, shouldn’t he have been free to go?”
She’s quickly written off by her fellow panelists as a crazy communist.
The reader realizes that her truth is ignored because truth doesn’t sell, much as in our world today when celebrities are front page news, but historical political action is shoved to the back – when it’s mentioned at all.
The details Soutter implements to build this world are strong, and leave the reader feeling uncomfortable as they imagine themselves living in a world where you purchase friends and have a badge that tracks your every move. The tracking of personnel isn’t necessarily the “future” given National Security Agency cooperation with cell phone providers. And it isn’t just the corporation that monitors its employees; people are encouraged to spy on their fellow colleagues and sell them out to the higher-ups.
In the very first few pages of the book, the reader learns about the corrupted police system, which makes more money creating criminals, than catching real ones. Soutter writes, “[There] was a young man in dark blue overalls, an AK-47 slung over his shoulder … trolling the yard for infractions he could levy against colleagues.”
The image of a police officer armed with an AK-47 is, like most of Soutter’s observations, not necessarily too far off in our future, especially for students across the country, as people clamor to put armed guards in schools.
The circumstances Souter’s characters find themselves in are enough to scare readers into activism. The book is unsettling because it should feel otherworldly. It should feel ridiculous that people have to purchase breathable air and pay to use elevators if they’re injured. But, as the reader sees the ways that world intersects with ours, it’s easy to imagine our world progressing to that point.
At one point Soutter’s character discusses how “fairness is nothing more than the distribution of wealth and power as those who already have it see fit.”
How is that different from our world today where people are disadvantaged simply because of where they were born, or into which family they were born?
Soutter writes, “The people who most enjoy conveniences of modern living will be the first to tell you that to ask them to spend a dime to help others is to spit in God’s face. It’s a crime to give litigators to people who can’t afford it, as if being the victim of a crime means you deserve crime. It’s unfair to give doctors to people who can’t afford it, as if there’s any fairness in who gets cancer. It’s unfair to give people free schooling, as if there’s any fairness in who is born into a family that can afford it.”
Soutter’s does an excellent job of building of this dystopian world and expertly connecting it to the flaws of our society today, making it easy for the reader to believe our government could morph into this corporate conglomerate if we aren’t careful.
Upon finishing, readers will no doubt close the book and wonder how they can stop this from happening to us. It motivates by leading through example and you’re right along with Charles Thatcher as his growing conscience allows him to start seeing behind the facade of the great corporation; and you’re hoping he can overthrow his corrupt system and you can prevent yours from becoming ever more like it.