Alys Key

The last battle: The Future, by Naomi Alderman, reviewed

Sinister preparations for the apocalypse by a few Silicon Valley billionaires must be thwarted in this part-thriller, part-Big Tech critique, part-meditation on doomsday

Naomi Alderman. [Annabel Moeller]

The sirens sound in the street. The lockdown order comes. The images on the television are of chaos and illness, total societal collapse. The apocalypse is here, and where are the rich? Already holed up in their survival compounds, ready to ride out the end of the world before emerging to take control of what’s left of it for themselves.

Billionaire preppers and their plans for Bond-villain bunkers have now pervaded the public imagination to the extent that this year we have two novels dealing with the phenomenon. First there was Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood, which took inspiration from Peter Thiel’s efforts to build a bunker in New Zealand. Now, Naomi Alderman’s The Future picks up on the idea with a near-future narrative about the secret survival plans of three global tech tycoons.

The novel takes a dim view of doomsteading. ‘The end of the world is only ever hastened by those who think they will be able to protect their own from the coming storm,’ Alderman writes. But it also celebrates the human urge to carry on in the face of disaster. That instinct is embodied by Zhen, a YouTuber whose backstory includes a frighteningly believable ‘Fall of Hong Kong’. Having survived one cataclysm, she instructs others online about the best ways to live through various doomsday scenarios. After Zhen meets Martha, the daughter of a former cult leader and a personal assistant to a character who reads as a stand-in for Elon Musk, she starts discovering a little more than she should about the apocalypse preparations of the rich and powerful.

Dust-jacket promises of ‘an audacious heist with the future of the world at stake’ make the novel sound less sophisticated than what it is: part-thriller, part-Big Tech critique and part-meditation on the end of the world and what surviving it would mean.

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