DiscoverScience Fiction

ZONE 12

By Joanna Beaumont

Worth reading 😎

An effortless yet convoluted story in a dystopian world centering around climate change and fertility, this novel is worth a read.

Synopsis

On Monday, Beth Jackson starts work at Relative Industries: a top-secret high-tech science
institute with zones of relative time.

By Friday, just five days later, she will have worked five years inside Zone 12.

For Beth, working inside Zone 12 is an opportunity of a lifetime. But not everyone is as motivated as her to work under time acceleration.

Soon after arriving, she meets Howard Henderson: a medical research scientist desperately trying to find a cure for his sick son.

However, something feels off about his contrived situation, and she starts to question if his son is sick at all.

Each step she takes to uncover the truth pushes Howard further away from her until she must
face the horrifying fact, she knows too much and may be trapped inside RI for all of time.

In a world where women born after 2035 are infertile, Beth Jackson is a recent PhD graduate hired to work at Relative Industries, a corporation that has manipulated time and created a deceleration and acceleration zone within its structure in order to advance science in the most efficient way possible. Through many mishaps, Beth soon learns that her arrival at Zone 12 (acceleration) has more motive to it than she had initially thought, and blunders into a deep investigation of the shady RI corporation that leads to a questioning of her own identity and those around her.


This is the first book of Joanna Beaumont’s Relative Industries series (the second, Started With Errors, will be published as an ebook in May). Already by the second chapter, Beaumont has presented very unique and interesting ideas central to the future world of the UK that she has created. The relativity of the ageing process— different time zones within a building versus real world time—is an idea unique to science fiction outside of space exploration. The emphasis on climate change is very satisfying in the urgency it portrays, and the sense of the urban is very much at war with the sense of the natural. Beaumont proposes the idea of thought monitoring, which is indeed a very current if somewhat paranoid issue and in a way, a science fact/fiction that is related to current social media, and reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s precrime and Orwell’s thoughtcrime. What makes Beaumont’s concept stand out is its social and technological connection to its surroundings (the thought-text interface lets you control surrounding electronic systems as well as linking to social media accounts). The use of thought monitoring is linked to a personal trust score as well as a truth index in news and media, which in this moment in time, makes thought monitoring sound utopian.


The story keeps a very steady pace which never slacks off and does not fail to maintain interest, and it keeps the narrative effortless and easy to read. There’s a big plot twist at the end that might explain some of the earlier shortcomings in the story, but even so, throughout the story characters place emphasis on the wrong things; for example, even though Beth is there to do research, she is never in the lab and the actual research is at the very bottom of her priorities. Some concepts have fuzzy connections between one and the other (the whole greenhouse scene is strangely constructed), some are too black and white, and some are proposed but there’s no follow-up to them. Abrupt, out-of-nowhere thoughts disturb some of the characters, and even though it might be explained by the big plot twist, it serves only to momentarily distance the reader from the character.


An important stress is placed on the importance of fertility. Although the general idea of using fertility and children as an empathy motivator towards acting upon climate change is legitimate and reasonable, too much emphasis is placed on children as integral to the female psyche. Children become the base factor to climate change, and therefore even more important. Beth’s thoughts are littered with phrases such as “advertising [her] fertility status to get a man”, and such entanglements are very annoying to read, since it seems as if the ultimate goal of the female is to procreate rather than take direct action towards problems. However, the approach is not so plain since too many ideas are locked onto this basic concept, and this is shading of ideas is nicely accomplished.


All in all, Zone 12 is an easy to read, entertaining novel brimming with unique take on old ideas and postulation of new ideas. Character building is layered enough but it gets entangled within itself and motivations are never truly clear, and when explained, do not seem to be sufficient. Joanna Beaumont is clearly a keen and curious contributor to the sci fi genre, of simple writing style but convoluted ideas. This book is worth a read, and hopefully some of the book’s interesting proposals will be taken up in its upcoming sequel.     

Reviewed by

A literature postgraduate. I'm very passionate about all kinds of literature and film. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, vision, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi, #travelogues, and #earlymodern

Synopsis

On Monday, Beth Jackson starts work at Relative Industries: a top-secret high-tech science
institute with zones of relative time.

By Friday, just five days later, she will have worked five years inside Zone 12.

For Beth, working inside Zone 12 is an opportunity of a lifetime. But not everyone is as motivated as her to work under time acceleration.

Soon after arriving, she meets Howard Henderson: a medical research scientist desperately trying to find a cure for his sick son.

However, something feels off about his contrived situation, and she starts to question if his son is sick at all.

Each step she takes to uncover the truth pushes Howard further away from her until she must
face the horrifying fact, she knows too much and may be trapped inside RI for all of time.

“Beth! Come here. You need to see this.”

Beth leaned closer to the dressing table mirror and checked her forehead for wrinkles.

On Monday she’d start work at Relative Industries, and by Friday she’d be five years older. 

Five years older in five days. 

She faked a smile and examined her laugh lines. Then she grabbed the tube of anti-wrinkle cream, squeezed out an inch and dabbed white blobs around her blue-grey eyes. It was Saturday. She massaged the cream in. It was too late to fret now.

Jason called from the sitting room again. “Come here! Watch the news.” 

Beth groaned. What was so important? She pushed herself up from the dressing table, yanked the belt of her red-velour robe tighter and strode out of the bedroom. 

The sight of the garish yellow paint in the living room made her shudder. A compromise gone way too far, she now admitted. Jason wore his England rugby jersey. His tall stocky frame teetered on the edge of the sofa. She noticed the coffee cup in his hand and wondered if he’d made her one.

“Isn’t that the company that sponsors your Ph.D?” he asked, nodding at the sixty inch TV mounted on the wall.

Beth sat by his side. An acrid chemical taste settled in the back of her throat. He’d overdone it with the cologne again, preparing for the after-rugby party no doubt.

“When are you going out?” She shook a hand through her damp hair; it was already drying curly.

“Ten minutes. Watch this.” Jason played the broadcast, and a news reporter continued his commentary. 

What started out as a peaceful demonstration outside the gates of Relative Industries this morning ended in several arrests after protestors threw fire bombs.

Beth turned the volume up. The demonstration had turned into a riot. Was it ever peaceful? 

Police with riot helmets and shields rushed from black vans. They formed a defensive line and edged towards the mob of protestors. Rubber bullets and smoke bombs were shot into the crowd while air missiles stuffed with flaming rags skated across the sky back towards the police line. Demonstrators covered their faces and trampled over abandoned signs of protest to escape the smoke. But away from the smoky haze others continued to provoke the police with angry taunts and more missiles. 

The image cut to military guards patrolling behind a razor wire topped fence, machine guns strapped across their bodies.

Beth’s eyes were transfixed on the screen.

Jason paused the TV. “Well, is it?”

She forced a neutral expression. “Yes, it is. What do they say? You can’t please all the people all the time.”

“Bloody hell! It’s a military facility. The guards have machine guns. What are they demonstrating about?”

“It’s partly government owned, but certain companies rent space inside. I’m not sure those riot scenes were filmed outside Relative Industries. They could’ve been filmed anywhere.”

“How do you know? You’ve never been to RI, have you?”

“Well, no, not yet. It’s only been operational for three months on that site.”

“So, what are you saying? It’s fake news. I bet you’ve got the company logo tattooed on you somewhere or running through you like a stick of rock.”

“If they are demonstrating outside RI, it’s because of something they don’t understand.”

“What?”

She lowered her voice. “It might be about the children born inside.”

Jason raised his eyebrows.

“If a woman gets pregnant while she’s working inside RI, she can choose to give birth to her child in there. So a child born inside can reach eighteen in what seems like just under three weeks. It is odd. Tell your mum on the outside you’ve given birth and then a few weeks later the kid is eighteen. The protestors might think it’s an abuse of a child’s human rights. 

“They don’t realise the child lived eighteen years inside. There’s nurseries, schools, hospitals, basically everything that’s available outside is available inside. It’s probably better than outside: small class sizes, no hospital appointment waiting lists.” 

She rewound the news and played it again. “The protestors look young. The ones who haven’t bothered to cover their faces, that is. They might actually be the kids born inside who’ve just got out and realised there’s a big bad world out there. They might be trying to break back in!”

“This keeps getting better. Are you still going in after seeing that?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I have to go. Climate change is getting worse. But we could make real progress in RI in months.”

“You haven’t got months in there. How old would you be if you stayed inside for a month?” 

“I’ll be away five days, not a month. It’s only a three-hour drive away. If you miss me, you can come and see me, but you won’t even notice I’ve gone.”

“I thought you’d change your mind about going in. What if there’s no way to control the climate? What if there’s no Disney ending?”

“I want to try. How will I tell the grandkids that bed-time story? Once upon a time Earth wasn’t a greenhouse. For a very long time all the people in the land had hoped-their-very-hardest it would go away while they continued to pump out shit loads of C02.”

“You might never have a child!”

“Why shouldn’t I? I tested negative for the virus. Why would you say that?”

He took her hand and looked at her for a moment. He must have known his thoughtless comment had stung. She was unaffected by the GAV virus. She was one of the lucky women still able to have children, and she had to care about climate change for their sake. But she didn’t want to argue when she was leaving for a five-year stint in RI on Monday. She took a breath and smiled at him. 

“Aren’t you worried I won’t want you when you’re old and haggard?”

Unbelievable. She stared at him. What an asshole. In some distinct place in time had she loved him and now she couldn’t remember? Or had the ticking of her biological clock rose-tinted her eyeballs?

“I’ll be five years older—thirty. The ageing process will be slower in there. It’s shielded from the sun. I won’t look five years older. Anyway, it’ll be more like I won’t want you anymore when I come out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means a lot can happen in five years.”

His face reddened. He stared hard at the wall in front of him. “What, you might meet a man in there and have a kid? That is what you mean, isn’t it?”

She stood up. “I need to dry my hair.” 

“You go and save us from climate change, but don’t expect me to want you when you look like an old prune.”

He jerked up and tugged his rugby shirt straight. He strode towards the door, slinging his sports bag over his shoulder.

“I’m leaving on Monday. Back on Friday. You won’t notice I’ve gone,” she said.

He flung the door open and looked over his shoulder at her. “I made you a croissant and coffee. It’s on the table.”

Walk away then. It didn’t matter to him. He wouldn’t have to dwell on their argument for five years.

“Wear your headband! I might not want you when you’ve got mashed up ears.” And good luck finding another woman who tested negative.

“You’d better start packing.” He slammed the door, sending a vibration through her and the flat.


About the author

Joanna Beaumont lives in Edinburgh, UK with her husband and daughter. She has a PhD in Physics and has worked as a researcher and engineer in comms, cryptography and IP networks. Zone 12 is Joanna's first novel. view profile

Published on April 24, 2019

60000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

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