Sunday, 20 October 2013

Brand Loyalty by Cally Phillips reviewed by Julia Jones

This review is posted to mark the 3rd anniversary of publication which was on 20/10/2010
Brand Loyalty sent me straight out of doors for a walk. Never mind that it was February 2011 and there was semi-thawed snow on the ground. I remember that my crutches skidded on the ice. I had to leave my computer and go outside. I needed to feel the sharpness of fresh air and experience actual, muscular movement. Walking, in the world of Cally Phillips's Brand Loyalty, is a subversive act. Consumers are most ‘productive’ when they remain passive, sitting in front of their enormous US™ screens: gaming, ordering pre-prepared, mono-branded food or, in the case of the elderly (the Victims) watching endless re-runs of packaged memories, which may, or may not, be their own. There is no longer any need to travel; holidays are a thing of the past  -- as are relationships, families, actual sex and the countryside.
This is true, especially, for the Project Kids. These selected youngsters are presented as the lucky ones. They are cocooned in the most comfortable accommodation, supplied with the largest US™ screens and earn their credits by interacting in consumer forums and playing the newest games to the highest levels. Project Kids are unlikely to want to go outside the perfect world of their compound – why should they? Everything they need has already been provided and anyway the purpose of their existence is to provide the living data that will enable ULTIMATE® always to be one step ahead in providing whatever is necessary to keep consumers passively consuming. If a Project Kid does want to go outside (thus offering alternative data for the psychological profilers to analyse) they have only to contact their counsellor and a licensed fuel efficient pod will be provided. Why walk?
Why visit a VCC (Victim of the Credit Crunch)? Why attend a birthday party? All these things are dangerous as they might encourage emotion, conversation or, worst of all, an interest in personal memory. It’s an unsettling day for Nike, Omo and Flora when they decide to visit Nike’s grandmother, Helen, who lives in a small magnolia-painted room with nothing to do except sort through the items in her Memory Bank. The danger is that Helen has lived in History.
HISTORY: Definition. A time in the past when people worried about what had happened before their own time and tried to use their worries to predict what would happen in the future. A pointless exercise.  EXAMPLE: History is bunk.
There is a black humour in Brand Loyalty,  which sometimes tips into comedy. The children have brought flowers for Helen.
‘ “They smell just like real ones,” she observed.
Nike, Omo and Flora exchanged puzzled glances.
“They are real ones, Nan,” Nike said. She’d got confused. She was old. What could you do?’
The flowers are plastic. For the children they are real because they are not virtual. They are tangible and have cost Flora half an hour’s ‘productive labour’ in a chatroom. Helen, though, has lived the best years of her life on a farm where the air is sharp and the winters cold and February a month of hibernation, tingling with the promise of spring. Her knowledge vault is ‘awesome’. Nike likes to visit her because of his secret addiction to the question Why? The question that is always about to send him overdrawn in the ULTIMATE® credit system.
Brand Loyalty is overtly and intelligently Orwellian. The relentless definitions churned out by the ubiquitous US™ may also recall the M’Choakhumchild system in Hard Timeswhere a horse became a ‘graminivorous quadruped’. The crushing of curiosity and individuality satirised by Dickens amid the surroundings of the Industrial Revolution is directly analogous to the post-Marxian processes favoured by the ULTIMATE® Corporation. Brand Loyalty is set in 2030, only twenty years after GRendHist (the Global Recession to End History) when global capitalism has succeeded in producing a homogenised, subservient population.  People have blithely up-loaded their personal data, they have acquiesced with its migration from a hard drive to a cloud and have never worried who might be profiting from this.
As I set off for my walk, invigorated by Brand Loyalty’s sparklingly cerebral mix of contemporary events, analysis and projection to the not-at-all distant future, I couldn’t help relishing the irony that I’d read the novel on a Kindle, delivered wirelessly from Amazon, an organisation directly fingered as a significant step on the road to ULTIMATE®. I might want to tweet about the experience, upload it to my social networks, tag it for the benefit of other consumer ‘communities’. Exactly like a privileged resident of the Project House. But within every organisation there’s the danger posed by the random element, the system anomaly, the Trojan Horse. That’s what Nike represents and Cally Phillips too. Her book is chilling but brilliant. I think she should look carefully over her shoulder whenever she steps outside
Reviewed by Julia Jones
Brand Loyalty is available in Kindle and epub formats. It's also available in print.
Find out more about Cally Phillips