Have you ever read a book that made you excited for what the future holds? Did it make you marvel at all of the wondrous things that could be made reality by the force of imagination and the human spirit? Did it make you wish the future would just hurry the hell up and get here already so you could experience the magic yourself?
Well, Thank You for Your Cooperation isn’t that book.
Welcome to The Bunker. It’s paradise on Earth—or rather Mars, but who’s counting? It’s a utopia, after all. Control keeps it that way, distributing resources, rooting out traitors and social deviants, and making sure that every citizen’s life is safe, equitable, and hygienic. Control selects your profession, assigns living quarters, and manages every facet of the bunker—from shooting down terrorist-launched nuclear warheads, to making the trains run on time. And if the trains don’t run on time, citizen, please check the train schedule again. There must have been a schedule change you were unaware of, because Control is never wrong, and to question Control is an act of treason. You aren’t a traitor, are you?
So work hard, citizen, knowing that you are contributing to the greatest civilization mankind has ever known. Eat your government-approved slop, sleep in your government-approved bunk, and watch your government-approved programming like “Ten Things I Hate about Treason Hosted by Van Johnson.” And always, always be on the lookout for treasonous activity. Traitors are everywhere, and as a responsible citizen it is your duty to report traitors wherever they are found. Failure to report treason is considered treason, and treason of all forms is punishable by immediate termination. After all, your safety is of the utmost importance.
The narrator that guides us through this mucked up (yet hilariously funny) future reality is Terry Renfield. He runs a crew of rock breakers in one of the lower-level quarries of Q-sector mining for… well, we’re really never told. I don’t think Terry even knows. Suffice to say that he pounds rocks all day because that’s what he’s been told his job is. Things suddenly turn upside down when one of the ever-present video screens shows a bit of special breaking news about “terrorist activity” featuring footage of a man who looks exactly like Terry running from some government facility as the place explodes in spectacular fashion. His supervisor suggests that he “take some time off” and then gives him a package and asks him to deliver it to one of the other sectors. Terry is immediately suspicious. You don’t get to be thirty-something years old in the Bunker by blindly doing anything anyone tells you—especially when you’ve never before been asked to do anything similar and you’ve just seen your face on an episode of “Ten Things I Hate about Treason Hosted by Van Johnson.”
- His girlfriend is a member of The Underground, an organization of misfits, social deviants, and traitors dedicated to resisting Control’s… control.
- Control is actually a computer and the Alphas (those citizens with alpha clearance) are programmers that program said computer and are all constantly fighting and trying to betray each other to curry favor with Control and/or scoop up more power for themselves.
- Earth is in fact healing from the global catastrophe and is populated by more privileged members of society. The truth is held back from the lower classes “for their own protection.”
- Terry Renfield isn’t Terry Renfield. He’s actually the clone of Terry Renfield that was created for use in a plot to take down Control, but the real Terry switched places with the clone at the last minute.
And so Terry (or Clone Terry) goes along with the little band of conspirators for lack of a better option. I mean, what is he going to do? Turn them in and try explaining to Control why he was keeping company with known terrorists? It’s a good thing he doesn’t, because we wouldn’t have nearly the amount of satirical fun otherwise. Adam Wasserman (He’s the author. Did I forget to mention that?) has a biting wit tailor made for a black comedy like Thank You for Your Cooperation. We’re treated to satirical scenes and commentary related to bureaucracy, Homeland Security, television, child-rearing, environmentalism, politics, and socialized… anything. In doing so, he borrows from a lot of other classic dystopian works such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and Soylent Green (to name a few) and combines them with some of his own ideas to craft a rich and darkly hilarious world.
Part of what makes the satire so funny is the fact that much of the world in Thank You for Your Cooperation isn’t that different from our own. We’ve all bitched and complained about some of the same things. How many times have you spent an hour in line at the DMV only to be told, when you finally get to the front, that the line you want is at the other end of the office and you’ll need to go through that one, too? Who hasn’t, upon going through security at the airport, wondered what kind of pervert decided that having naked pictures taken of you should be a mandatory step in domestic travel? Except in Thank You for Your Cooperation, it’s all been puffed up and hyper-realized into a distortion of reality. It makes it easier to laugh at the sneering fourth grader ground into chunks by a mining drone, or the TV star dying of radiation poisoning, or any number of the hundreds of people that bite the dust due to government oversight and political backbiting. Of course, it helps that it’s a book and it’s not real, but it doesn’t change the fact that the satire is, in the words of my favorite English professor, “well taken.” Dystopia is mostly a serious genre, and these days it seems like there’s no shortage of dystopian books coming out with tales about hardship, loss, “the endurance of the human spirit,” and other bullshit buzz phrases. Wasserman’s facetious treatment of the genre reminded me of the Escape from New York franchise, which is something sorely needed to balance out the “serious books are serious” vibe.
What’s the bad part, you might ask? Well there’s not much, I can tell you that. The structure of the story is a little here and there at one point, jumping forward to another scene, and then backtracking to explain how they all got there. And sometimes there are important details that come out of nowhere, such as the revelation that Terry is a hacker about ¾ of the way into the book. Wasserman treats it rather flippantly, with a, “You didn’t know that? Oh well!” sort of attitude. It fits with the overall tone of the book, though, so it’s forgivable. It still doesn’t explain why, if Terry is such a good hacker, he didn’t know at least some of the shit about Mars and Earth and Control before the events of the story, but never you mind that. Worrying about those kinds of trivialities is how traitors are born, and you don’t want to be a traitor, do you? And besides, little things like that are what gives the book its Hitchhiker’s-Guide-to-the-Galaxy-crushed-under-a-government-issued-boot feel, so I was able to ignore it for enjoyment’s sake.
Overall, I give Thank You for Your Cooperation four out of five stars. And if all this talk about psychotic robots, degenerate traitors, and horrible gruesome death has piqued your interest, then you’re in luck. Tomorrow I’ll be hosting Adam (the guy who wrote the book, remember?) for an interview and giveaway of his novel. Stay tuned!