Proxy by Alex London reminds me of when little kids who do something bad say, “It wasn’t me” as if parents will be fooled and punish that ‘other person’ who supposedly did the bad deed. In the world of Proxy that is what basically happens. After the Earth has been devastated by natural disasters and is now largely wasteland. The cities that have survived are controlled by corporations, and there is an even sharper divide between the people with money, the 1%, and the rest of the population than there is today.
The wealthy live in the Upper City and the current generation of rich kids get their kicks from raves designer drugs or biopatches, plastic surgery type enhancements, etc. while children in the lower city struggle to simply survive by any means necessary…child labor, stealing, gangs, etc.
Unlike most post-apocalyptic novels, there is still plenty of modern technology available. Everyone has a biofeed which streams advos, specific marketing ads targeted to the individual, robots perform a variety of services and people use a variety of devices to access the constant datastream. The technology and vacousness of the rich kids reminded me a bit of the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.
The kids in the slums live off credit that adds to their debt. Getting medical care costs credits, going to school costs credits, and the amount of credits is so high that the older poor in their 70’s are still in debt from medical care they had as children. Some orphans who were rescued from the outer wastelands are forced to sign contracts to be proxies before they realize the implications. A proxy is a poor child who is held responsible for the transgressions of their patrons.
Syd is one very unlucky Proxy. His patron is spoiled rich kid and daredevil Knox. As a young kid he broke a very valuable item and Syd was punished by an EMD which is the future equivalent of getting tasered. Patrons watch a hologram of their proxies getting punished and that first time Alex cried as much as Syd did. However, through the years he continued to misbehave and break rules and became immune to feeling guilt for the consequences of his actions. In the meantime, Syd continues to get electric zaps, perform backbreaking manual labor and other acts to make up for the sins of Alex.
At the beginning of the story Syd has only two more years left on his proxy contract and then he will be free, well as free as living in the dangerous slums living a hardscrabble life can be. Then Alex commits an act so heinous that Syd will pay a terrible price and the lives of both boys will change forever in ways neither one could have ever forseen.
I really liked the fresh concept of this book, it’s one I have not seen done before in any variation within this genre. I also enjoyed the way it extrapolated issues from our own time such as credit and debt, income inequality, advancing technologies, marketing databases, global warming consequences, admiration of Kardashian types, etc. and projects them out into a future world. That said, I thought there could have been better character development, things leaned toward stereotypes, and while there was the action expected in this genre the build up of tension was not as masterful as in other books I have read.