Fact-Checking the Future

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In the year
2016, at the end of the Urban Revolt before the gun ban, there were
over ten thousand deaths and injuries from guns in the borough of
Manhattan alone. Before we legalized prostitution, there was a rape
or attempted rape every three seconds. Of course, we still have
rape, because it has less to do with sex than with power, but the
figures have dropped. Licensed prostitutes don’t have pimps, so
they aren’t beaten, battered, killed. And they can’t use drugs.
There was a time when women went to butchers to deal with an unwanted
pregnancy. When they had to risk their lives or ruin them. Babies
were born blind, deaf, deformed before genetic engineering, and
the research it made possible to repair in vitro. It’s not a perfect
world, but . . . you realize it could be a lot worse.

Naked
in Death
, the first book in a long running series by J.D.
Robb (aka Nora Roberts), is not your typical dystopian novel. A
hybrid of futuristic SF and gritty crime thriller, it makes a case
for a future the author herself would not mind living in. A future
in which, you might have noticed, guns have been outlawed. It’s
more than a passing detail.

Lieutenant
Eve Dallas of the NYPSD (New York Police & Security Department)
is investigating an unusual crime: a prostitute has been murdered
with an antique weapon — a gun. It is the first time in all
her ten years on the force that Eve has seen bullet wounds. As the
narrative fills us in, guns were officially banned in the early
2020s; and by the mid-twenty-first century, they have become rare
and expensive collector’s items.

Instead of
firearms, the police force carries “hand lasers,” which use electricity
to stun people and which detect both heat and movement so that the
wielder can aim them without sighting. They’re also pretty lethal;
Eve herself has two “terminations” on her record. Yet they kill
without making a mess.

Well, with
weapons like that, who would want a gun? It would be like
wanting a sword today — a senseless act of beauty, as the saying
goes, but not very practical for self-defense. Yet the populace
does not seem to be armed with these lovely little stunners; the
gun ban must have regulated private ownership of all kinds of weapons.

Yet violent
crimes still occur on a regular basis. This novel alone mentions
a little girl killed with a knife, a man holding up a convenience
store with a homemade explosive device (then assaulting a police
officer with his bare hands), and a woman poisoning her husband
with a pie. So one is justified in wondering what happens to be
particularly evil about long metal tubes that shoot little bits
of metal at high speed.

One
of Eve’s murder suspects might wonder the same thing. Enter Roarke
. . .

A free market
virtuoso, Roarke seems to have a finger in every profitable pie,
has amassed a fortune through hard work and business savvy (which
may or may not include smuggling!), and doesn’t see why he can’t
enjoy the fruits of his own labor. A few minutes after Eve meets
him, he lights up an illegal cigarette — and when she calls him
on it, he asks sensibly, “Don’t you think, lieutenant, that the
police have enough to do without trying to legislate our morality
and our personal lifestyles?” Of course, he also has a huge personal
collection of antique weapons (including but not limited to guns),
all of which were purchased only through legal sources, as long
as Eve’s police recorder is on. (Wink, wink!) Add the unlucky
fact that he was one of the last people to see the victim alive,
and he becomes a suspect in her murder.

According to
a special computer program, someone who owns such a collection,
who also happens to be an excellent marksman, who “considers morality
a personal rather than legislative area,” and who finds restrictions
on weapons, drugs, tobacco and alcohol to be flaws in the legal
system, would be 82.6% more likely to be the killer she is hunting
down.

Motive? “Self-indulgence.”
It’s an unfairly amoral way to paraphrase “the pursuit of happiness,”
but there you have it.

Yet people
who break the rules have their uses to those who enforce the rules.
When he has been cleared as a suspect and the investigation runs
into a brick wall, Eve asks Roarke to let her use his totally secure,
totally unregistered computer system to electronically breach the
privacy of one of her suspects. The rogue obliges her.

It’s kind of
cute, if slightly inexplicable, that Eve and Roarke end up falling
in love. True love knows no politics, I guess.

Yet the future
in which they have their happily-ever-after in as politicized as
it gets and is begging for a fisk. So let’s take a closer look at
the world which Eve Dallas has judged so much better than our own
time . . .

In the year
2016, at the end of the Urban Revolt before the gun ban, there were
over ten thousand deaths and injuries from guns in the borough of
Manhattan alone . . .

Now, that’s
not fair — and not just because Robb made up the number to suit
her story. People inclined to violence won’t magically become peaceable
just because their guns have been taken away, and resourceful (dare
I add, entrepreneurial?) individuals will soon come up with marketable
alternative weapons. So forget that anti-gun fairytale.

Before we
legalized prostitution, there was a rape or attempted rape every
three seconds. [Possibly because the women weren't carrying
guns? Just a thought . . .] Of course, we still have rape, because
it has less to do with sex than with power, but the figures have
dropped.

Apparently,
the right legislation solves every problem. It’s a nice fantasy,
but when in actual legal history has that ever happened? It also
still boggles the mind — and offends the sensibilities — that the
best way to protect women who don’t want to have sex is to introduce
women who are willing to charge for sex. If you don’t like guns,
get some mace: why the complicated solution when simple ones are
so readily available?

Licensed
prostitutes don’t have pimps, so they aren’t beaten, battered, killed
. . .

Who needs a
pimp when you have the government? Prostitutes may be legitimate
business persons in this future, but they still have to pay licensing
fees, mandatory health exams and a “sin tax” — all of which
considerably reduce profits.

And they
can’t use drugs . . .

Dream on! Prohibition
laws just make things more interesting for businessmen. Anyone who
really wants to use drugs knows how easy it is to acquire them .
. . and how easy it is to detox.

There was
a time when women went to butchers to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.
When they had to risk their lives or ruin them . . .

Yeah, because
it’s a woman’s own biological children who are her real worst
enemies. On the other hand, the lifestyle and individual decisions
which resulted in the conception of children can only be good for
her.

Babies were
born blind, deaf, deformed before genetic engineering, and the research
it made possible to repair in vitro . . .

In vitro? Does
this mean that all babies are conceived in test tubes and petri
dishes, la Aldous Huxley’s Brave
New World
? You see, that would open a whole new set of questions.
Perhaps Robb means “in utero” — in which case, the Swiftian modest
proposal would be to terminate the unwanted embryo rather than bother
with repairing it. That would be cheaper in the long run, you see.

It’s not
a perfect world, but . . . you realize it could be a lot worse.

And just like
that, Robb makes us feel better about the world we already live
in. Ours is also not a perfect world . . . but it could be a lot
worse. It could be like hers.

February
24, 2009

Cristina
C. Espina [send her
mail
] is a teacher and freelance writer. Visit
her blog.

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