Kat Meads

Livingston Press
271 pages, $14.95

I read Kat Mead’s somewhat sci-fi novel Sleep at 35,000 feet, eating pretzels and drinking bad airline coffee to stay awake. I’d come from a job assignment that kept me up for two full nights with the volume of work and the weight of worry. A colleague on that assignment assured me she never sleeps more than an hour or two a night. Ever. My question: “Are we sure this novel is futuristic?”

Sleep takes place in a not-so-brave new world. The Valley is a technology-driven economy in which workaholism is not merely the norm, it’s the only socially sanctioned behavior. “Corporate” guarantees anyone who works off PRIME an apartment, but those who fail to adhere to The Valley’s demands face a bleak future as Terminateds—hopeless and homeless, selling their kidneys to eat.

Naturally, people rebel. One group, the anarchists, continue to live without sleep but they enjoy the freedom to starve in the mountain snow. Another new-age group commits themselves to the study and practice of sleep. Here, among the dreamy dreamers, lives our 15-year-old protagonist, Luce.

While the rest of her cult retreats into perfect sleep, Luce and her teenage friends envision a higher octane life with “ALL ACCESS ALL THE TIME,” not realizing that the price of having 24-7 access to anything means others have 24-7 access to you.

All three systems—workaholism, anarchy and sloth—seem unsustainable. The rebels depend on luck and act without plans, nearly insuring instant failure. They can’t carry off a simple food raid, to say nothing of a kidnapping. But they did once “Make A Blip.” They got noticed by Corporate when they killed two people in a botched political statement 15 years ago. Since then, the closest they’ve come to a calculated move was to abandon a baby at the doorstep of the sleepers when they recognized they couldn’t take care of her. By comparison, the sleepers live what seems an idyllic life in spite of their monomania. I like the sleeper value system of processing, sorting, re-sorting and digesting everything but never figured out how the sleepers supply a vast store of food and calming luxuries to an ever-increasing cult of sleepers if the only way to survive economically in The Valley is to tie oneself endlessly to an e-Screen?

But such pedestrian concerns wither in the face of the charm bellowing from a rebel aptly re-named Repeat.

Back in The Valley, way ahead of the curve, Repeat nee the stutterer Sebastian had recognized the futility of original expression, the vanity of adding to the glut of already/better said. To back-up that belief, he’d memorized whole databases of PRIME, thereafter ready with a pity, piercing quote, skimmed from centuries of the tried and true, for any and every occasion. As Repeat, he never stuttered, only majestically declaimed.

It is Repeat who reminds us that “there are only two basic plots: one, somebody takes a trip; two, a stranger comes to town.” Those two plots unfold as Luce meets her mom in this page-turner that kept me awake and reading on another red-eye flight. Well worth the price if only as a cautionary tale of the maybe not-so-distant future.

—Jan Johnson

Copyright © 2004 Jan Johnson.  All Rights Reserved.

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