William Campbell Powell’s book Expiration Day takes place in a not-too-distant future where a decline in global fertility has resulted in a decidedly commercial response: Start making sophisticated androids for those who want children.
Powell’s story zeroes in on the formative teenage years of Tania Deeley and her experience as she realizes that the friends and school she has always accepted as rote may in fact consist predominantly of androids. Including her best friend Siân.
But how does a teenager not realize their friends are androids? Little Brother and Homeland author Cory Doctorow was curious about this himself, and after reading an early copy of Powell’s book, sat down with the author to discuss how easy it is to cocoon yourself unquestioningly inside the information you are given, and how hard it is to bust out of that.
In the first video, Powell and Doctorow discuss authoritarianism and the idea that an apocalypse can happen slowly because of strict societal controls. “[In Expiration Day] nobody riots when they find out that they can’t conceive children, corporations just sort of fob off these android children onto them as a solution,” Powell asserts. Proposing that in the face of crisis, humanity would rather create distractions as opposed to solutions is an idea that has a long history in a variety of science fiction, from Bradbury on back. Is creating an entirely new form of life to distract oneself a deeper step in this progression?
Powell also comments on the role that religion plays in the managing of the lifestyle present in Expiration Day. “Science fiction and religion do not have to be at each other’s throats. […] Though I don’t feel as if I’m breaking new ground there.” Do you need to address this when you posit, as Expiration Day does, that a machine can be a real human being?
Doctorow and Powell go on to discuss in a second video about how young adult writers take such concerns about society and frame them in a way that becomes personal for young adult readers. (The discussion begins at 1:57.)
For example, is taking the main character’s parents out of the story strictly necessary? Doctorow prefers not to have parents steer the main character through the story’s disaster, while Powell’s book makes Tania’s relationship with her parents central to the tension of the story. As Doctorow points out, it is a common trope of YA books to have the main character move away from their parents as an act of defining themselves, but is there a way to do that when you present readers with a world that is coming to an end? Is it better to have a parent present to relay how things were to contrast with how things are?
And would young adults do anything at all if they knew they were going to irrevocably changed? The adults in Expiration Day obviously don’t, despite being the ones with the most power and agency to enact positive change.
In the end, is this fear of change learned at a young age, or is it intrinsic to our society?
Expiration Day is out from Tor Books on April 22nd. You can read an excerpt from it here.