Genre(s): Dystopian, Science fiction (general): Action & adventure, Visionary & metaphysical
Mike Brooks’ debut novel is an adventure story set in a dystopian future in which our taste for branding, consumerism and artificial reality is boundless. In /The Machine Society/, he weaves together psychological insight, philosophical reflection and spiritual inquiry to give us a novel that is both a deep satire on modern life and a rich metaphor for our longing to find inner peace.
Dean Rogers lives in the Perimeter of New London, holding down a soul-destroying job, surrounded by people who have lost the will to communicate. He is afraid his debts will spiral out of control, resulting in him being cast out of the city, outside of the Security Wall. Meanwhile, in the Better Life Complex, New London’s rich elite live in plastic luxury, unaware of the sinister secrets that underpin their world.
The Machine Society is an original and intelligent sci-fi thriller, and a heartfelt rally cry for the soul’s liberation.
His taste for quirky off-beat literature continued with the publication of Al McNac’s Almanac, a spoof 19th century almanac, which contained elements of steam punk before the term had been coined. Next came a number of short story projects. In recent years, Brooks has turned his attention to novel writing, with a particular focus on futuristic fiction as vehicle through which to critique our modern world and life as we know it. His debut novel is in part the fruition of a life-long passion for exploring spiritual, philosophical and psychological ideas. The ultimate questions, he says, are ‘What is life all about?’ and ‘Why is advertising so annoying?’. When not writing, Mike Brooks is an amateur musician and a professionally-trained psychotherapist.
By Mike Brooks, author of The Machine Society (Cosmic Egg).
I like sci-fi for the same reasons I like the painting of Magritte and the music of Captain Beefheart – each is encouraging us to experience life differently.
Magritte wanted us to look at life in a new way, to catch us off guard by presenting the familiar in a new light: a giant egg in a bird cage, a giant rock suspended in mid-air, night time in the street while it’s daylight up above. Magritte wanted us to see with new eyes – to see what we are missing – to suggest that what we take for granted might in fact be extraordinary.
While Magritte wants us to see differently; Captain Beefheart wants us to hear differently. Beefheart’s music – exemplified by his classic album Trout Mask Replica – might on first hearing sounds like random chaotic noise, apparently made up on the spot. But it is all meticulously composed, and his band could replicate the songs note for note. Beefheart wanted to provide an alternative to the ‘mama beat’ – the comforting, soothing rock and pop that lulls us to sleep; in direct opposition, Beefheart’s music keeps us awake at night.
In helping their audiences to bypass the ordinary thinking mind, Magritte and Beefheart are like the Zen Masters, whose koans were intended to jolt us into enlightenment – by shocking us out of our formulaic concepts of the world. According to Zen, we don’t experience life as it really is, we only experience what’s in our brains – our ideas and beliefs about life. ‘Wake up!’ they say. ‘Stop thinking in habitual ways. See, hear and experience life directly. Don’t let your mind fool you with its rationalising and programmed ideas.’
For me, sci–fi is trying to do the same thing. Let’s take two examples – an old favourite and a new favourite.
Philip K Dick was accused by some of being psychotic, and perhaps his mental health wasn’t all it could be on account of the drugs he took. But others lauded him as a mystic who saw behind the veil of ordinary life.
The nature of consciousness continues to baffle scientists – it simply can’t be quantified, dissected or labelled. But mystics, poets, philosophers, alchemists – those who glimpsed something beyond, beneath or behind our ordinary existence – have been exploring and experiencing higher, or different, levels of consciousness for as long as humankind has existed. PKD was s visionary of this ilk. He imagined, he saw, he experienced other states of being, other worlds, other realities, and he presents them to us in the art form of sci-fi. He is saying: ‘You can experience these things too.’
More recently, Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy, while different in tone and style from PKD, has also presented us with an alternate reality that is baffling, compelling and disturbingly plausible. An area of land has become contaminated – it seems to exist in another dimension – it is shrouded in mystery. One of those sent to investigate this other world declares: ‘We all live in a kind of continuous dream… When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.’
Sci-fi has the power to shake us out of our misconceptions about reality and show us what truly lies behind the veil.
Sci-fi is trying to show us different and alternative worlds and ways of life. For me, this is not escapism, but a siren call beckoning us to evolve, to transcend our ordinary consciousness. There is an opportunity to explore strange new worlds. Sci-fi, as they might have said in the 60s, is not just about being astronauts of outer space, but also about being astronauts of inner space.
The Machine Society by Mike Brooks is published by Cosmic Egg.