They say to write what you know. It should surprise no one that the central character of Stay Younger Longer is a reporter, author Ryan Hyatt’s former occupation. What is surprising is how Hyatt uses this storytelling device in an antithetical fashion to deliver clues to an evolving and intriguing mystery while still paying homage to his predecessors in the genre.
In classics like Asimov’s The Caves of Steel we ride along with a plucky cop just trying to fulfill their civic obligation to the public good. Richard White, on the other hand, is owed something by society. The victim of experiments by the state and compulsory service in the wars waged by profiteers he struggles to form and break allegiances with the upper crust and underbelly of a future Los Angeles. The trick for the protagonist and the reader alike is in determining which group is working to improve the ills of a society not ready to accept the cure in lieu of ignorance’s euphoria.
Also unlike our golden age future detectives Richard is unafraid to speak in an honest and unfiltered voice little different than that of a horny and ambitious 29-year-old in today’s Venice Beach. (Trigger warning for red state conservatives: sex, drugs, and rock & roll still exist in 2046 and Jesus still hasn’t come back to do anything about it!) Unlike the narrator in Caves of Steel, who spends the entire book consciously ignoring his own bigotry against robots and the shadow it casts on his professional judgment, Richard White is honest to a fault, sometimes focused more on getting laid or getting high than getting answers. Luckily the author handles this subject matter with the appropriate succinctness and realism it requires to enhance believable world-building. Hyatt knows we’re along for the (at times rough) ride and that purity of heart is not determined by what words a character uses, but the actions taken when lives are at stake.
The world only a few decades from today that Hyatt builds is filled with the familiar and fantastic in equal measure. For every shiny sky disk or hoverboard a homeless rambler still has to be incarcerated to satisfy the wants of the powerful. California’s long anticipated big one has come and gone, and rather than treated as an opportunity for rambling action sequences to fill pages, Hyatt uses this event as it would be in real life: a shared experience that shaped the lives of all involved, sometimes in subtle and surprising ways.
The gritty reality of Venice Beach in 2046 is a welcome retreat from overly dystopian or utopian tropes rampant in other recent works of future fiction. Fancy technology exists in Hyatt’s imagining, but perfection doesn’t, and the motivations of others stay nebulous as ever. At least until Dick peels back the layers of deceit formed by the meeting of accelerated politics and technology in a California reshaped by far left wing ecological sensibilities as much as catastrophe.
Ray Kurzweil’s great hope arrived a few years ago in Dick’s world, but the potion kills just as easily as it immortalizes. We’ve been told in real life (by Ray) the cure to aging looms on the horizon, just out of reach. In Stay Younger Longer we come to understand the terrifying consequences that may accompany it and why, analogous to Big Pharma and the drug trade today, the government’s involvement might not be completely altruistic.
Stay Younger Longer is a dirty look at an uncomfortably plausible future trying to get clean. Let’s hope the real life conclusion to the issues presented is as satisfying as the one Hyatt gives us.