I have reviewed a book by Mike French before. That one, The Ascent of Isaac Steward, was wonderful but it was hard, a form of extreme reading both linguistically and psychologically, if you will. By comparison the new offering, Blue Friday,is a whizz of a slick, smooth read satirising the modern quest for the work-life balance with real finesse. I compared his last book to a Michelin starred meal; this one is more like a well executed ballroom dance, light (in the most positive sense), well directed, sharp and elegant.
In 2034 Lieutenant Richard Trent works for the Family Protection Agency, dedicated to stopping overtime, working on weekends, and all of that malarkey. Overtime has become an underground business, and doing it could cost you your life. Pills to make you work, sort of the uppers of overtime, are illegal and being caught carrying them could cause serious trouble, and their effects are feared by the authorities:
In twenty nineteen a man called George Winston smuggled a pack of tablets and company markers into a commuter train and handed them round like sweeties. By Potters Bar half the train were high and conducting brain storming exercises using the black markers on the windows, floor, everywhere.
The draconian hand of the law doesn't just enforce the overtime ban: it preserves family time by enforced viewing of family television (what an appalling thought!) and monitoring family meal-times. And if you don't have a family by 25 then the state will ensure that you do by selecting a spouse by computer for you.
By turning the norms of our own society on their head, and looking at them through the experiences of one nuclear family in hiding, Mike French certainly makes us think about freedom, and how laws to protect, to fence us in from harm, also just simply fence us in. It also shows how freedom fighters often inflict trouble upon their families and that the law will always be an ass when taken to its logical conclusion. What happens when an anti-overtime enforcement agent reaches the end of his shift the second he's about to catch a fugitive? He chooses between letting the fugitive go or becoming one himself.
Although easily marketable as futuristic genre fiction this is much more than that, as you'd expect from a man whose last novel should have come with a PhD for every reader. An entertaining, satisfying and witty read.
Blue Friday has been out for a couple of months as an e-book for the Kindle but is being launched as a paperback at Novacon, the UK's longest-established regional science fiction convention, on Saturday.