I’m very proud to announce that this is possibly the first book I have reviewed in the same year that it was released. Normally, here at IP, we prefer to be at least a couple of decades behind the times. Corona Crime is a very new novel – but it is set three centuries into the future. (I don’t like 2020 and I refuse to stay in it, literarily or otherwise.)
Sadly, based on this novel, things will not have improved much by the 24th century. A lot of science fiction is intended to be a mirror of our own world, showing us what democracy (or communism, or free markets, or racism, or nuclear war) would look like in another galaxy far, far away. Corona Crime does something much more direct: we have the same problems, in the same world, except they’re a lot worse because we’ve done nothing to fix them. The rich still live off the poor, male lives are still more valuable than female, and countries like Poland and Vietnam are still getting it in the neck from countries which are larger and better-resourced.
The story is this: a series of appalling coronavirus pandemics meant that governments had more health data and surveillance data than ever before. This resulted in a scientific breakthrough, when it was found that you could siphon off years of life expectancy and transfer them between people. Now rich people live for ever, and poor people sell their old age to pay for the present.
We enter this world from the perspective of Jake Moonrath, a law enforcement agent tracking black-market “Coronatime” in the United States. You’ll be pleased to hear that the police have reformed somewhat – they no longer carry lethal weapons – but the system is still not entirely perfect. Jake is already feeling some twinges of conscience when somebody blows up a centre full of life expectancy contributors, and he gets framed for the job.
The story which follows is exciting, scary and at times very confusing. You can tell Corona Crime was written in 2020, because it’s not just about healthcare: it’s also about inequality, financial crime and corruption on an unimaginable scale, from London’s third airport runway to a Congress in Washington that never asks who’s signing the cheques. Robert Pimm does a good job of explaining the financial intricacies, but I admit I had to re-read a few chapters to make sure I was following all the twists and turns.
Once you’ve got your bearings with the plot, though, there is an awful lot to think about in this book. The central idea which fascinated me in Corona Crime is that progress is not linear. Sounds obvious, right? Except most sci-fi thrillers show us a world which is either incredibly advanced or returned to the wild.
In Corona Crime, the world has made amazing strides of progress… and then collapsed. Everyone uses technology, but no one understands how to make it any more (except the Chinese, who barely appear in the story except to slap their trademarks on fast cars). You can take amazing holographic images of your surroundings, but nobody seems to listen to music or read books. Worst of all – especially if you are single during this pandemic and hoping for a glorious renaissance when it ends – people have stopped having sex. It’s too personal, and there might be germs.
Pimm also has a lot of fun parodying our various national tendencies. The British have built a vast tourist industry on the concept of “waiting for the bus that never comes”. In Europe, police have to travel in packs of at least 12 to make sure they can offer the full range of 36 official languages while they’re arresting someone.
Corona Crime has been written fast and, at times, gives one the same feeling of breathless confusion as 2020. But it is worth persevering through the first few chapters until you start to see the story take shape. This is an exciting book, and it left me with plenty to think about.