Review: THE NOT YET by Moira Crone, University of New Orleans Press,
The year is 2121. The seas have risen. "Heirs," the transhuman elite of what used to be the United States of America, have moved all operations inside the illusion that once appropriately "treated," one may live forever. Through the mechanisms of the United Authority and the WELLFI corporation, the relatively small group of treated Heirs have reconfigured the entire social and economic system around this revelation, and enshrined a 20th century scientist named Albers as their new god.
In order to qualify for "treatment," one must prove him or herself useful, worthy, appropriately devout, and accumulate a "Trust" sufficient to buy into the system of perpetual genetic reinscription, nanotech implants, prodermal upgrades, and so forth. Humans fortunate enough to access this elite track are identified by metal chokers and social designation as a "Not-Yet," short for "not yet treated." They occupy the slippery social rung between the "Low Nats, "the natural-born organized into clans and enclaves "bound to the wheel" of life and subject to strict population control agreements, and "Heirs."
The "Not-Yet" of the title is the Malcom, a ward of H. R. Gold Lazarus, mid-20th century cardiologist, early generation Heir, and founder of the old Audubon Founding House on the Islands of New Orleans. Malcom and his best friend/nemesis Ariel were recovered at the same time from the rubble of an outlier enclave on the Florida coast and delivered to the Foundling House when Lazurus was approaching his 200th birthday. In order to start building their Trusts, Lazarus farms the boys out at kindergarten age to the entertainment industry as actors in Sims, elaborate and/or intimate tableaux vivants popular among the Heir class. Malcom adapts well to the life and builds a large Trust; Ariel rebels.
As the novel opens, Malcom, employed at the WELLMED Curing Towers in the "Walled Urb" of Re-New Orleans on the North Shore of the Sea of Pontchartrain in the South Central sector of the United Authority since the collapse of the Sim industry, has made a periodic check of his account only to learn from the WELLFI Bank that someone else has a first claim on his Trust. Nearing his "Boundarytime," the key dedication ceremony on the path of Not-Yets, and having received no response from Lazarus – his Trust Executor – despite repeated queries, Malcom sets out for the New Orleans Islands to confront Lazarus in person and, hopefully, re-secure his future.
Hitching a ride to Audubon Island with Serio, a young fisherman from the Chef Menteur Enclave, Malcom immediately meets with trouble that throws him into real contact with Enclavers and old religionists for the first time. They tend to regard Heirs as "ghosts," "shades," or "bonesnakes," and Not-Yets as a form of psychopath -- "cold as ice" in their aspirations. Meanwhile, cracks in the Albersian "Elysian Reality" of the Heirs are becoming increasingly impossible for everyone to ignore. The answer to "Who or what, exactly, had claimed my future?" is not at all what Malcom expects.
Acculturating readers to this wondrous and perverse alternate future history, Moira Crone makes great use of first person narration through Malcom's eyes balanced with careful parceling of passages from Lazarus's diaries. Those with knowledge of the Greater New Orleans area will especially enjoy her rendering of the geographies and cultures of the "Northeast Gulf De-Accessioned Territory." It is all too easy to close one's eyes and imagine the "Outer Orleans Islands, Museum City (The Garden District surrounded by fortified flood walls), Sunken Quarter, Audubon Island… five miles up the Old River from the Quarter" and those who insist on continuing to live there. More than a century after she made landfall, Hurricane Katrina lives in the folk songs of the Free Wheelers.
Like The Hunger Games trilogy, The Not Yet is also compelling as allegory for the creeping technocracy of our age, its perpetual realized and threatened aftermaths, and its proto-transhumanist seductions. Lazarus's confessions reveal the history of progressive moral abdication of the Heirs, but also their abjection and the fragility of the system they have built. Crone's fully-imagined and thinkable probing of the sometimes too-familiar themes of humanity, family, spirituality, power relations, and survival make The Not Yet a wonderful choice for post-secondary common reading programs and book clubs. It is a state-of-the-art "Southern novel."
Reviewed by Crystal Kile
Crystal Kile, a former NOLA resident, is an independent scholar in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area.