March 7, 2011

Personal essay: "Why I Signed 'Life After Sleep:' An Apologia."

(Every day, I like to post at least a thousand words of original content to the CCLaP website; on the days I don't have a review of a book or movie ready, I thought I would try other material, such as this series of personal essays, looking at a topic in the arts from my life that I think you might find relevant or entertaining too. You can click here for a master list of all personal essays now written, if you're interested.)

Life After Sleep, by Mark R. Brand

Apologia: A biased and deliberately all-positive analytical essay, designed to persuade people to like a certain thing as much as the author does

Why I Signed Life After Sleep: An Apologia

It's no secret that I'm a passionate fan of science-fiction, and that I've long wanted to put out a SF title through CCLaP's publishing wing; but it's also a fact that the center is geared mostly to a mainstream crowd that crosses through many different genre boundaries, which meant that I needed to find a special kind of speculative title to put out, one that matches the center's overall focus on titles that help explain our current zeitgeist, but that is fundamentally fantastical in nature. And so that's why I was so thrilled to receive several months ago the manuscript that would eventually be known as Life After Sleep, by local SF veteran Mark R. Brand, because it's exactly what I just mentioned; it's a futuristic tale for those who don't usually like futuristic tales, while still being satisfying to us hardcore genre enthusiasts, a book that sneakily has a lot to say about our own current times in which we live. And that's because Brand's book is not really about the near-magical device that gives the novella its name -- basically, a machine that emits a magnetic resonance similar to an MRI, but attuned to the human brain in a way so that it immediately triggers deep REM dreaming -- but rather is a look at what society is now like a decade or two after this invention, becoming by the end a metaphorical look at the ways high technology seems sometimes to control our current lives whether or not we want it to, whether or not we even participate in that technology ourselves.

Why is it considered nearly impossible anymore in Brand's fictional universe to sleep in a normal, unassisted way? Because society itself has adapted to a world where people only need two hours of rest a night instead of eight; the typical work shift is now sixteen hours, the most popular time to hit the gym is now four in the morning, and most danceclubs don't get really hopping anymore until daybreak. In this, then, we can see "Sleep" with a capital S as a symbol for Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, even the internet itself, in that one of the biggest issues facing all of us these days is in how to utilize these life-changing devices without them controlling us, without us becoming a slave to the technology instead of the other way around. And as we see in Brand's lively yet textually dense story, the answer is sometimes not an easy one; in fact, this is what the book's plotline is mostly about, is watching four people in special situations that each cause havoc with the way things now normally work in a post-Sleep world, and how these four people either successfully or disastrously deal with this crisis in their lives. (There are the new parents, for example, forced off their "Bed" for postnatal medical reasons; the Iraq veteran and PTSD victim for whom Sleep causes unwakeable combat nightmares; the hipster band promoter who uses an illegal Bed to Sleep for extended periods, so that she can then stay up for four straight days and nights, even as it causes the same kind of bodily damage as drugs do to an addict; and the arrogant doctor whose Bed has stopped working for him for some reason, and who slowly goes psychotic from sleep deprivation over the course of the book.)

Ah, but don't worry, fangirls -- like I said, there's plenty in Life After Sleep for SF fans to love too, starting with a conceit dear to my Second-Life heart; that in a post-Sleep, global broadband world, virtual clubbing and other MMO social interaction has become a normal part of the youth experience, with it now common to party physically in your own town all night, log into a virtual Korean nightclub and party there until late afternoon, hop over to Ireland and party there until the evening rolls around, then be ready by midnight to start the whole process over again. Make no mistake, there are plenty of details in this book that will flabbergast you, which was one of the biggest pleasures for me of being the manuscript's editor; under Brand's nimble, inventive direction, genetically engineered energy drinks are now literal aphrodisiacs, business cards have their own RFID chips, and a seamless marriage of Foursquare, Facebook, Google Maps and cellphones even tells you which dark corner of the danceclub is the hippest one to be hanging out in.

By the end, it all adds up to a book I'm extremely proud to have CCLaP's name associated with, a real leap forward in my opinion for Brand and his writing, and a title that I think will have a lot of crossover appeal, whether or not you're an existing SF fan; and since it's technically free if you want it to be, I hope you'll see it as a low-risk reading adventure and download a copy for yourself, available as usual in PDF form for both American and European laserprinters, EPUB for computer screens and mobile devices, and MOBI specifically for Amazon Kindles. As always, I encourage you to share your own thoughts and insights as well, either at the book's Facebook, Amazon or Goodreads listings. It's a book I think thoroughly worth taking a chance on, and I hope you end up doing exactly that.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:30 PM, March 7, 2011. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Reviews |