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BOOK REVIEW: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

BOOK REVIEW: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

Harlequin Young Adult
August 2017
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Science Fiction / Dystopia

6/10

Every word is Trademarked™, Restricted® or Copyrighted©. The companies and people who own these rights let people use them, but once you turn fifteen, you have to pay.

Speth Jime is anxious to deliver her Last Day speech and celebrate her transition into adulthood. The moment she turns fifteen, Speth must pay for every word she speaks (“Sorry” is a flat ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt), for every nod ($0.99/sec), for every scream ($0.99/sec) and even every gesture of affection.

I find it creepy that the system can tell how long or hard a kiss is. I don’t know exactly what the system monitors, but Beecher would pay something like 17¢ for each second. That’s supposed to feel normal. It;s been like this longer than I’ve been alive, but something still felt wrong about it.

She’s been raised to know the consequences of falling into debt, and can’t begin to imagine the pain of having her eyes shocked for speaking words that she’s unable to afford.

“Optic shocks may cause nausea,” Mrs. Harris said flatly, “dizziness, redness of the eyes, swelling, headaches, shortness of breath, seizures, confusion, heartpalpitations, visionchanges and, of course, blindness.”

But when Speth’s friend Beecher commits suicide rather than work off his family’s crippling debt, she can’t express her shock and dismay without breaking her Last Day contract and sending her family into Collection. Backed into a corner, Speth finds a loophole: rather than read her speech — rather than say anything at all — she closes her mouth and vows never to speak again.

Then, suddenly, another option blossomed in my mind. I seized it, because it was a choice – my choice – and one I’d never heard anyone suggest or seen anyone do. I put a shaking thumb and finger to the corner of my mouth and drew my hand slowly across. I made the sign of the zippered lips, and I silently vowed I would never speak again.

Speth’s unexpected defiance of tradition sparks a media frenzy, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps, and threatens to destroy her, her family, and the entire city around them.

I was an agitator. I was a fool. I was brilliantly devious. I was a mental deficient. I was an unpatriotic threat to the nation. I was a pathetic symptom of a generation with no soul. Kids never used to be like this,” interviewees said.
But my mother approved.
I was seditious, a word I’d never heard before. It mean I wanted to destroy the government.

 

 

Even before the start of this story, readers are shown a glimpse of the world they’re about to enter, in the form of a copyright page as it might look in the State of Vermaine, the place where Speth lives some time in our future, where freedom of speech is no longer a thing and special permits need to be bought just to maintain ownership of a physical book.

The Owner assumes any and all Legal obligation for this physical copy of the book and indemnifies the author and publisher against liability, including but not limited to the following:
i) Paper cuts
ii) Eyestrain or eye fatigue
iii) Cases where the physical existence of paper, printing or binding might present physical, emotional, or intellectual harm or distress.
iv) Cases where the textual content might present physical, emotional, or intellectual harm or distress.
v) Confusion, disorientation or irritation
vi) Intestinal distress
vii) Death

And to be sure, there is a lot to take in with regards to the dystopian world Katsoulis offers up, so this is a nice primer for readers who won’t dismiss this offhand as uninteresting copyright information.

For the most part it is evident that a lot of thought has gone into the building of this world, and fans of Black Mirror are bound to feel a little familiar with some of the technology holding people to ransom.

We were all familiar with Blocking. It was becoming increasingly common for companies to Block certain imagery in-eye using the overlays on your corneal membranes. An expensive perfume bottle, for example, might appear as a blocky mess of color if you fell too far out of the company’s target demographic. People who were too poor, or fell too far in debt, could end up with a full-blown case of The Blocks.

Anything that wasn’t explicitly in the public domain was blurred to little more than colored squares. Shalk and Yundoro became two masses of moving blocks in the approximate shape and location of the human behind them. As far as the authorities were concerned, I had basically lost my right to see. In all likelihood, I would be like this for the rest of my life. My hands were the only thing I could see.

With the familiar pattern of things that are already bizarre to those of us in 2017 being pushed further and further.

Did you know Rossi & Speight tried to Patent walking?” She paused, thinking. “They called it ‘intentional placement of one foot in front of the other in a series for purpose of ambulation and travel.’ I thought people were finally going to riot on that one. It really could have pushed us over the brink. But then Silas Rog stepped in—Silas Rog!”
She burst out laughing so loud, it scared me.

And with certain handed-down stories that assure readers this is set in our future, not some alternate universe.

I remember my father claimed there used to be places called “liberties” that would let you read any book, and all you’d have to do is show them a card.
“How much did the card cost?” I asked. He smirked. He said it was free. You just had to promise to return the book when you were done. 
I loved his stories, even ones that ridiculous. I knew what he described was impossible. How could people who wrote books, or published books, ever make any money if “liberties” just gave them away? It made no sense.

This is a world in which a FiDo (a WiFi outage) is the only time parents can tell their kids how much they love them without being plunged into debt. A world in which most parents are carted away as soon as their kids are old enough to be left in the hands of paid caregivers. A world that is without new and better inventions as a result of all the legal turmoil.

“If anyone tried to create a competing product, one that didn’t explode when punctured, the Rights Holders would sue. During the Patent Wars, aggressive litigation became the sole purpose of Patent ownership: to sue anyone who infringed, or prepared to infringe, on the ideas and concepts already owned. It became impossible to innovate or improve anything. Creating and inventing became less than worthless; creating and inventing became liabilities. Nobody dared. That is why you will never see any new ideas in your lifetime. Anything that looks new is only due to marketing and sheen.”

A world in which the phrase “Freedom of speech” is bound to cripple the speaker financially.

Freedom of speech™,” Mrs. Soleman choked out, a little teary and with a pause, “is one of the most expensive phrases on the national market.” Her Cuff made a lower, angrier buzz. “Unless you’ve heard it during a FiDo, I doubt any of you have heard it at all. Ask yourself—why?”

 

There are some good messages in the book about freedom, expression, and standing up for what you believe in, it is a pretty quick read with lots of action and rather short chapters, and I haven’t come across a book that deals with something as important as words being charged. But it’s not entirely unique, in that it shares some of its worldbuilding with the movie In Time (but with words instead of time, obviously), and it is not without its flaws.

  • In a world where everyone watches the word market and looks for slang words on sale, it seems an awful lot of characters use non-contracted words. It could be that they’re cheaper than the contractions, but this isn’t made clear.
  • Speth makes bad decision after bad decision with very little regard for the people she is double-crossing or putting in danger. Okay, fair enough, she can’t talk or communicate with them, but even her internal monologue seems to barely consider how it will harm them. What’s more… these wronged parties don’t seem to hold a grudge against her because she’s so intelligent and powerful and must have a plan for this new kind of protest (spoiler-but-not-really: she doesn’t).
  • Despite the fact that Speth is the first person narrator, it’s hard to relate to or connect with her on an emotional level.
  • There are a few events and plot points that fulfill two rather clunky purposes: as reader-manipulating-cogs, and to get the characters where they needed to be, but without the progression or emotions feeling natural or realistic.

 

But despite these issues and despite the huge suspension of disbelief required to get into this story, it is an interesting idea and enjoyable enough that the time spent reading it doesn’t feel wasted. I will likely continue the series but won’t exactly be counting down the days until the next installment is available. This is not a compulsive read like The Hunger Games, Unwind, or even Divergent, but I will be keeping an eye out.

While the ending was rushed and there were plenty of things left unexplored, this does read well-enough as a standalone. People who like technological cautionary tales, à la Black Mirror, but without the brain-mush hangover should consider giving it a shot.

 

BOOK REVIEW: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

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