Back before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and heralded the final collapse of the Soviet Union, dissidents would be disappeared. Taken from their homes in the middle of the night, "transferred" to clerical duties somewhere in the hinterland of Russia’s 11 time zones or exiled to the Gulag.
Sometimes they were erased from history: their names were removed from payrolls, telephone directories, university honour boards or even edited out of photos, a fine art in the days before Photoshop.
In this modern age, we find the idea of losing our identity nearly impossible: having it stolen or misappropriated, yes, but losing it completely, no. We are more used to see people inserted artificially into famous historical tableaux, a la Forrest Gump or Zelig.
It’s hard enough getting rid of a profile from Facebook, so how on earth could we possibly be erased from our real lives?
In Grant Piercy’s The Erased we have our protagonist, an android repairman, being taken from his home in the middle of the night for some unknown – to him – reason and taken to a facility where he is beaten up, tormented and then expected to repair an android which he admits is more advanced than what he is used to. His name is "taken" from him and he is referred to only as “77.” He meets some other inmates at the facility and tries desperately hard to work out what is happening to them all. He also wants to know what has happened to his wife and daughter.
So far, so simple… but there are complications, and to reveal them in the context of a review would be akin to spoiling the story for you. Suffice it to say that the plot reveals a wider conspiracy that “77” is a minor, but key, part of. A conspiracy that is an integral part of a nightmarish, bureaucratic world in which people are suspicious of each other because they could be an android, or a criminal “riding” an android remotely.
Piercy examines the grey line between censorship and “good government,” creating a future revealed in glimpses that are terrifying in their implications.
But we need more than glimpses. We need a context. We have no idea why some works of literature, art and music have been erased despite them being only mildly subversive. One character is obsessively fond of (the now-banned) Joy Division and David Bowie, and refers to them constantly.
There are chapters that discuss almost exclusively the works of Alan Moore and Kurt Vonnegut. I didn’t quite get them, which might be my problem, but it didn’t really ring true to me in terms of character and world building. To put it another way, it’s like a character in a contemporary novel being obsessed with the works of Stravinsky and Joyce: it paints them as being a little outre in their taste but still – to our day and age – a little eccentric.
I realise that they were groundbreaking in their own way, but I’d have thought Lou Reed or Frank Zappa would have been more appropriate, and more genuinely subversive, choices.
But like many readers, I don’t want a window into my recent past: I want see the possibilities of the future and Piercy mostly delivers.
The narrative does falter on occasions but it does chuff along at a merry pace for a reasonably slim volume and he does present some established ideas in a way that chills as well as intrigues: a genuine "censor wonder," you might say.
Buy The Erased right here.