Sci-Fi Novel Envisions Corporatocracy in a Climate-Changed Future
By Nexus Media, with Tal M. Klein
In Tal Klein's new novel, The Punch Escrow, humans have successfully tackled disease and climate change, but powerful corporations control everything. The book has created a stir among sci-fi fans, and there are already plans to adapt it to the big screen. In this conversation with Nexus Media, Klein shares his perspective on science, technology and the future of our species. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What's the premise for The Punch Escrow?
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It's the year 2147. The world is neither a utopia nor a dystopia—things have pretty much progressed at their current pace. Nanotechnology and genetic engineering have become mainstream medicine. 3D printers now more closely resemble Star Trek replicators, and while climate change and air pollution haven't necessarily been solved, they're being addressed with carbon-fume eating mosquitoes who excrete water. Yes, it's almost always raining in the future—people try not to think about where it comes from.
Most important to the plot: teleportation has become the en vogue method of transportation, via a mechanism called the Punch Escrow. Patented by International Transport—one of the most powerful companies on Earth in a world governed by corporations—the Punch Escrow makes teleportation the safest form of transportation by ensuring that a passenger who cannot arrive at their destination simply emerges unharmed from the chamber they initially entered.
It's deemed the safest method of transportation until Joel Byram, an average 22nd-century guy in New York, is haphazardly duplicated en route to a second honeymoon in Costa Rica, leading International Transport to try to fix the bug by eliminating a duplicate.
How does the future look different from today?
The Punch Escrow is a hard sci-fi book, meaning the technologies that exist in my version of 2147 are all rooted in modern science. I like to call it a near-future novel because the technological innovations that permeate everyday life in the story shouldn't feel alien. They're pragmatic evolutions of the science surrounding us today.
I think the main difference between The Punch Escrow's 2147 and today is the structure of government. I worked with an anthropologist to try to develop a thesis on what signals from today's society might give us clues about tomorrow's governments. We ultimately landed on the thesis that, since elected officials' jobs have shifted from serving the proletariat toward serving corporate interests—because the latter is a more reliable path to re-election—then it would stand to reason that future society would cut out the middlemen. The future is a corporatocracy.
Tal M. Klein. Lai Long
Why is a warmer planet such a potent element in that future?
If current events aren't enough to convince you that our climate is dramatically changing, then there's probably not much use reading further. Still here? Great. In the present, we're no longer talking about climate change in the abstract. We're talking about our changing climate. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an alarming rate. Coral reefs are dying from heat stress, leading to entire marine ecosystem collapse. The anthropological impacts of climate change from dangerous weather patterns such as Harvey and Irma, heat waves, droughts and sea-level rise are beginning to manifest themselves. Greenhouse gas reduction alone will soon not be a sufficient remediation. We'll need to find a way to actively remove these fumes from the air in order to survive. This need will create demand, and demand will catalyze supply.
How does the planet of the future deal with climate change, and what inspired those ideas?
Future society will commercialize and industrialize clean air, thus solving for some of dirty air's climate side effects. The end result in the book follows what we're currently doing to clean water—that is, just enough.
If everyone's air was dangerously polluted, that might galvanize the world to action, but even in that case there would likely be tiers of air quality, just as there are tiers of water quality today. The commoditized solution I put in the book was developed with the assistance of a CRISPR engineer: genetically modified mosquitoes that eat greenhouse gases and excrete water seemed just like the sort of messy solution we might realize (although I hope we'll find a more elegant solution).
Humans tend to opt for quick fixes and shortcuts. I think it's because we are a breed largely driven by the pursuit of instant gratification. There are more promising options out there, such as methanotrophs (unicellular organisms) that eat methane and exhale oxygen, so I remain hopeful that whatever solution we find to combat air pollution is more elegant than what I present in the book.
As your book transitions to film, what key messages from your novel do you hope are retained?
James Myers at Lionsgate convinced me he knew how this book would translate to film. He tapped James Bobin to adapt and direct my book, and I trust both of them completely. They get the things that are important to me, mainly Joel's voice, Sylvia's strength and 22nd-century Earth's scientific realism. Now that Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman have been attached to produce, I'm more confident than ever. I think it'll be a great movie.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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