Fact-Checking the Future

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