In 2051, the Bhutanese Empire rules post-apocalyptic Shangri with iron-fisted Buddhist compassion. Happiness is compulsory, but making everyone happy isn’t easy in an overpopulated world. Breeders are ghettoed, homosexuality is mandatory, and Shangrians’ happiness levels are strictly monitored by hedometers implanted in their heads. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.
Gemini and Cyan, winners of the pregnancy lottery, are on the run. Cyan can’t fall pregnant, and Gemini is addicted to the Experience Machine. Will they evade The Tax Man, and find a way to end the brutal pleasures of Shangri?
The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, HEDON is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.
Keep your thoughts positive. – Mahatma Gandhi
“BIGS,” the sign flashed in neon blood. Anand’s heart beat in his ears as he dismounted the motorbike, a few yards from the entrance. It was early still, the sun barely appearing over the scarlet horizon. Only half a dozen bikes sat in the parking lot. Not busy, yet. But he still got the beats. As he did every morning before he walked in. That arrhythmia he’d known forever, but never spoke.
The drive wasn’t that bad. A year after he’d started his job at BIGS, he’d begun to enjoy it. At first he’d resisted the routine, but by now he’d softened to it. It only took him a few minutes to ready for work. He’d gulp down the glass of Soylent, throw on his work robes, rinse his teeth with bact-aid, and pack left-overs and two apples in his satchel – all in fifteen minutes. Then he was out the door, his helmet under his arm.
Yeah, the morning ride wasn’t that bad. It took ten minutes to drive past the fissuring Wall of the ghetto. They usually suspended holo-ads on the surface of the great Wall to hide the grime. To hide what everyone knew was inside.
Ensuring your happiness, so you don’t need to.
Anand was grateful, really he was. His life wasn’t that bad. (“A grateful life is a good life,” Master Dzogo would say). It was better than before the Debreeding. Before, there was no way he could eat fruit each day. Fruit, meat, wheat, water – there wasn’t nearly enough for everyone. And the problem? The problem was the Breeders. Humans. Humans everywhere. Population swelling without controls. Yeah, Master Dzogo was right. Unchecked breeding was the problem.
Reducing the Breeder threat, one embryo at a time.
This holo-ad was one of Anand’s favorites. He’d known a Breeder- couple that lived downstairs – the Goldsteins. Mrs. Goldstein had cried when they took her away, and Mr. Goldstein had shouted in a language Anand didn’t understand. But the men in brown suits hadn’t understood Mr. Goldstein either. They didn’t slow at all when the older man raised his voice. The Brownies dragged Mrs. Goldstein by her elbows at first. But she flailed around like a fish. (Master Dzogo said most Breeder- women flop like fish – “that’s why they smell as they do”). So the brown men pulled her by her hair instead, those long black strands that Anand liked so much. He hardly saw women anymore – only the lottery winners and the dykes. (And the dykes weren’t really women). He still remembered Mrs. Goldstein’s hair. Dark and frizzy. Jagged. Like the silhouette of the city at sunset. But her hair wasn’t frizzy in the brown men’s hands. In their hands, her hair was straight. Taut and oily as they dragged her out the door, down the stairs, and into the Embryology Van parked outside.
Anand was told at school the next week that Mrs. Goldstein was Carrying. Carrying an embryo. How selfish, Anand thought, to bring another child into this world. A world that had little food as it was, almost no water. Mrs. Goldstein was taking the food right out of his mouth, Master Dzogo explained. Selfish.
Ten minutes, and he was past the Wall, his bike carving a path through the high-rise city. Holo-ads floated along the sides of these buildings too. Memory additions and subtractions, tax consultants, bathhouses (there was the ad for BIGS, Anand’s throbbing heart noted), water purifiers, marijuana outlets. The holo-ads cycled throughout the day, cascading down the sides of the buildings from the morning bell through to the evening bell. So many ways to spend one’s hedons.
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Jason Werbeloff is a novelist and philosopher. He loves chocolate and his Labrador, Sunny. He’s interested in the nature of social groups, personal identity, freedom, and the nature of the mind. His passion is translating philosophical debate around these topics into works of science fiction, while gorging himself on chocolate.
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