The Resisters

On the list of passions that are as American as apple pie, the game of baseball occupies a prominent place. That's what makes its presence at the heart of Gish Jen's clever dystopian novel The Resisters so meaningful, and so disquieting.

In the middle of the 21st century in the country now known as AutoAmerica, Jen (World and Town) vividly imagines a world that's been transformed into the ultimate surveillance state through the pervasive AutoNet (dubbed "Aunt Nettie" by its detractors), a powerful amalgamation of artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet. Teenager Gwen Cannon-Chastanet and her parents are among the benighted segment of AutoAmerica known as Surplus, who subsist on a government-supplied Basic Income and the produce they grow in their backyard.

Gwen's preternatural talent at pitching a baseball--once a banned sport, but now designated an Official National Pastime--lands her a spot at Net U, an institution otherwise barred to those of her social caste. As a result, the family experiences tension arising from her new life among the Netted. They ponder whether her exposure to its allure will induce her to Cross Over into that privileged social stratum.

Jen revels in creating a fully realized world that's sufficiently recognizable yet infused with enough alien elements to qualify as frighteningly realistic speculation on a potential future. Blending realistic family drama with sly social commentary, The Resisters raises a host of provocative questions about what a ruthless combination of omnipresent technology and economic inequality might look like. George Orwell would be proud. And scared. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

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