Professor Stephen Hawking is quoted as suggesting that we should develop cyber-technology which ‘makes possible a direct connection between brain and computer.’ Sarah Govett’s debut novel, The Territory, has taken this vision of our future to create an utterly compelling and dark dystopia.
In 2059, Earth’s seas have risen and land high enough to be habitable is at a premium. The Territory, surrounded by a mesh of protective fence, has been created to keep the chosen few safe from the inhospitable wetlands beyond. But just because you are born within the Territory, doesn’t mean you will stay there. Resources are depleting and control following the Dark Days is of the highest priority. ‘Limited space requires limited numbers,’ the Ministry tells them and so every fifteen year old must take a test, the TAA. A result of less than 70% means ejection from the safety of the Territory into likely death on The Wetlands. For every fifteen year-old, including Noa Blake, this is a life or death exam.
For the wealthy, however, there is an advantage: a node implanted in the back of the neck to upload facts straight into the brain. Sounds great? Noa’s parents didn’t think so and refused to use the technology on their daughter. For those that have, the Childes, or Freakoids as Noa calls them, passing the TAA exam is almost guaranteed. But for Norms like Noa, even in one of the best schools in the Territory, endless revision and a determination to survive are what will get you through.
Noa has an inherent sense of fairness but she is not your typical hero. Her own will to survive appears to be stronger than her desire to help others less able. Unsurprising when the Territory is so heavily policed. Even school-life is a tense mix of Norms versus Freakoids as well as Norms versus teachers. Exam pressure has never been so acute. But the arrival of Raf, a Freakoid who seems more like a Norm, forces Noa to question the seemingly safe life within The Territory. Has Noa been misled by its propaganda and the unfair ‘luck’ of the Freakoids with their nodes?
Fans of dystopian novels will love The Territory. Even if you’re less keen on this genre, it’s a gripping read. From page one, it draws you in and keeps you turning the page, willing Noa and her friends to pass the test. It asks important questions, about social justice and our own education system, where money buys you a potential head start and an unfair advantage on those less fortunate. At its worse, the Ministry’s elitist policies echo the Nazi ideology of a ‘Master Race,’ restricting artistic expression and the right to protest. It also makes you wonder about the selfish will to survive that is in us all. Would you conform to a system just to be safe, at the expense of your closest friends and even your family? The Territory doesn’t answer these questions for you but leaves you wanting more. Just as well it looks like The Territory is the first in a series…