INDIVIDUTOPIA: A novel set in a neoliberal dystopia

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

Excitement at the start of this book with the incredibly apt cultural references to Thatcherism and the cruelties of austerity, somehow seemed to fade away as the book continued. At the introduction of Renee Ann Blanca we are led into her pointless existence—brilliantly reflecting many inanities of the modern world’s drone mentality. 
The whole piece was an excellent piece of work, but this old boy cannot help but feel that a trick or two has been missed, by not utilising the initial conceit to its full extent by highlighting the vast inequalities that now exist in Western capitalist society.
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I really enjoyed this trip to a dystopian future that felt as though it could actually mimic a reality in 50 years. It was entertaining yet realistic enough to be the next 1984.
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Joss Sheldon has put together an engaging dystopian book in Individutopia.  It's the kind of work that reminds me of books like Anthem and Player Piano.  Sheldon has both a sense of humor about the way he sets up this world, as well as creative, political insight.  I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys this genre.
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A cross between an ode to Aldous Huxley and an obeisance to Yevgeny Zamyatin, Joss Sheldon’s “Indiviutopia” is an intense exercise in dystopian fiction. Life in pods, isolated existence, artificial energy inducing foods and an irrational sense of exuberance all form the touchstones of this book. While the shades of Zamyatin are unmistakable, shadows of Huxley loom throughout the book, traversing the pages boldly.
Set in the year 2084 (yes I know what you are thinking right now as did I when I first saw the year), the story has as its protagonist, Renee Ann Blanca. She resides (if that is the word) in a London that has undergone a virtual transmogrification the likes of which could not have been envisaged even by the most talented prophet or the wiliest of the crystal ball gazers. Seeped in the philosophies of Thatcherism, the very fabric of social contract has been rend asunder and the four uncompromising inevitabilities characterizing society take the form of privatization, competition (that has outlasted and outwitted co-operation), impersonal relationship and a tidal wave of mental illnesses. It is under these circumstances that Renee Ann Blanca finds herself in what was once one of the greatest capital cities on earth.

Renee however is impervious to the perils and pitfalls that have plagued her city. Living in an isolated setting of her own (in a pod), she is saved from being the Siddhartha or Buddha of the modern world as her world is always viewed through rose tinted spectacles (literally so since she is always wearing “Plenses” which obviate her from sighting a single fellow human being). Inhaling anti-depressants from a vent in her pod (again Huxley looms large with his spectacularly potent mix of “Soma” that keeps the characters in “Brave New World” perennially happy and in capital cheer), Renee is in an induced state of perpetual ebullience. To embellish her cheer are her holograph “Avatars”, I-Original, I-Green, I-Special and I-Extra. Spurring their master on with narcissist words of encouragement and lending an atavistic boost to her psyche, these Avatars assist in Renee making the transition from being merely artificial to being transformed into the ephemeral. Constantly reminded of her debts, every passing second, courtesy a holographic screen flashing in front of her eyes, Renee is engaged in executing one monotonous task after another meaningless one just to gain adequate money to repay her debts. Since her debts are always stacked up and forever ahead of her meager savings, she is always playing catch up. A luxury to order virtual accessories and accoutrements exacerbates her situation. The exquisite irony surrounding the existence of Renee is illustrated in a chilling manner by Joss Sheldon when after a dab of a perfume that has the stench of rotten ham, Renee exults in a blissful manner about the worth of her perfume, being oblivious to the fact that her olfactory nerves are no longer capable of assimilating or distinguishing between wistful smells and wafting odours!

However, a moment of sheer chance, reveals to Renee the exact predicament in which she finds herself. Will this Eureka moment enable her to unshackle herself from the manufactured utopia enslaving her? Or will she be resigned to her paradoxical fate which is at once delightful and at others dreaded? 
With “Individutopia”, Joss Sheldon brings to the fore a style of writing that is bold, bleak, instinctive and inspiring.
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Love me a good dystopia. This one, however, had all the subtlety of the freight train.  The not too far away future the author imagined, a nightmarish spin out off of Margaret Thatcher’s terrifying quote There is no such thing as society, sees the rise of the individual as a leading mentality, which results in the privatized, monopolized, commercialized oligarchy. It’s pretty much where things are currently headed, but exaggerated for dramatic effect. No, not merely exaggerated, hysterically hyperbolic. So much so that it becomes a heavy handed socialist farce instead of a clever sociopolitical satire it might have been. And as such it probably becomes easier to dismiss as ultraliberal socialist propaganda instead of something that might inspire actual thought and dialogue. For pure entertainment value it’s just ok, it tries for cuteness with its omniscient narrator opting for chumminess, referring to the reader as beloved friend. It does have a basic narrative structure, arc included, about one of the new world order waking up to the real world, exiting the mad race of the city and finding way to the socialist utopia in the woods and thus finding the real meaning of life and all that, but seems like that’s just the vehicle for the message and the message is too loud to enjoy listening to. Clunky like its title. Brief at least, something like 105 minutes. Thanks Netgalley.
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I’m a fan of George Orwell’s 1984 and a fan of dystopian and utopia novels so I wanted to give this one a try, I really enjoyed reading it!
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