In his debut novel, Expiration Day, William Campbell Powell seamlessly transports his readers to London fifty-plus years into the future. This is a dangerous world, denoted by colored zones for safety. One street over, and it could be bad news bears for your day. The story is told through journal entries from Tania Deeley, starting at age 11 when she gets her first AllInPhone – an all-in-one device that Powell devises as the future of smartphones.
Tania Deeley lives in a village/suburb of London, with her parents, Reverend Deeley and his wife. At some point, the world population rate started falling because of infertility – most humans cannot have children, and those who can are protected from a young age and held responsible for bearing children and giving them up for adoption. Parents who want children and are unable to bear have the option of leasing a robot that has free upgrade options every few years, to give the parents the chance to believe their child is real. The robot children do not always (sometimes ever) know that they are children.
Powell’s story is vivid and impactful, driving at the core of humanity and what it means to be a person – is our personhood defined by sentience and the capability to grow and develop? Is it possible for automated machines to take on virtues of personhood or the emotions that come with the burden of humanity? If so, are those emotions genuine or part of a programmed code?
The novel clearly integrates and explains simplistic versions of the Uncanny Valley, the Three Laws of Asimov, and more philosophical/research on cybernetics without skipping a beat in moving the story forward. References to some of the most well-known literature films and music of the late 20th and early 21st century in side conversation further ground the story in the real world and increases the believability of the characters and setting.
All-together, Expiration Day is one of the sharpest, most unique and most on-point robot-based dystopias in the past few years.
Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell (ISBN: 9780765338280) is available in hardcover on April 22, 2014 for $17.99 and is published by Tor Teen. There will be an extensive online publicity campaign, it will be featured at major trade shows and will be the subject of national print advertising.