Saturday, 30 August 2014

Brand Loyalty by Cally Phillips, reviewed by Dennis Hamley

I wish I had a pound for every dystopia I've ever read. I may not end up rich, but I could buy a few more branded goods with the money - and therefore I'd fall straight into Cally Phillips's trap. If dystopias are formed by identifying contemporary features and extending them to their logical conclusions, then this is the ultimate dystopia because it's taking the the whole principle of what fuels our present society and extending its appalling implications to virtual infinity. Corporate totalitarianism. What a terrifying concept. And yet it's here already. 

Brand Loyalty

The TV programme broadcast in 1913, No Sex Please, We're Japanese, depicts men retreating from actual life and finding satisfaction in a virtual, contactless world - and countless others, are following the broad highway into unreality, pretty well a whole generation. The destinations may differ but the process is the same. In the vision Cally Phillips depicts, it is the norm. The ULTIMATE(R)corporation is now everyone's reality, where everything is barcoded, trademarked, copyrighted and there is no notion of individual personality or ownership. The ultimate prize is a pod which traps you for ever into unreality. Children think plastic flowers are real, history and the future have disappeared and what's left is the deadly prison of the present. Can this dreadful world be somehow repealed? Well, reality and humanity still exist,and ULTIMATE(R)cannot force the choice because the mind is its own place and has the power to come to a different conclusion. But can the few protesters ever subvert the process? Has Helen at the end reached the only remaining reality? Is the message of the final parable all we have left? 

This is an amazing, searing book. Cally Phillips's prose is springy, punchy and has utter clarity: an ideal combination for this novel. Other reviewers have wanted Brand Loyalty to be filmed or televised. I agree; it would be brilliant. But as the real(?)-life ULTIMATE(R) Corporations creep subtly over us, would anybody dare? Well, if anybody is going to, then they must speak up now. The appalling EU-US Trade Deal, negotiated in secret and soon to be ratified, will enable corporations to sue national governments if they think their interests are being harmed. And with the general pusillanimity of these governments combined with the fearsome legal resources available to the corporations, who is to say the corporations won't win hands down every time? We are entering an age in which dystopias come true. 

Brand Loyalty is available on Kindle and  in paperback