I don’t remember the last time I read a dystopian and thought from page one, “This is where we are heading, this is totally plausible.”
The basic premise in All Rights Reserved is that in the future, copyright is used as a weapon, everyone has to pay the rights holders to use words and gestures, and one girl inadvertently rebels against the system by refusing to speak.
I know a few people think it’s far-fetched and requires a big suspension of disbelief, but from where I stand, it’s plausible. Social credit already exists in China, where ‘top citizens’ get VIP treatment (including fast tracks to University and jobs) while lower scoring citizens find it hard to travel or find employment. Americans already love to sue for the weirdest reasons. There are warning labels on everything, like not to operate electrical equipment while sleeping and that a carton of eggs has an allergy advice for, you guessed it: eggs! Capitalism runs rampant. They don’t even have socialised healthcare! People literally die because they cannot afford to go to hospital, or are driven into severe financial hardship because they do go. The richest 1% of the population own more wealth than the other 90% combined. Lack of financial access to legal assistance means the rich crap all over the poor. That already seems like a weird dystopian to me. We’re not going to jump from the ‘free’ world we live in today to this dystopian tomorrow, but we’re already attached to our mobile phones, and getting a permanent Cuff doesn’t seem too weird if it’s first there for the same reasons we use a phone and then gradually turns into a words monitor. This futuristic dystopian world has been stagnant for hundreds of years so we’re far in the future.
All Rights Reserved terrified me as a good dystopian should. It was an amazingly well-written book, although I suspect reading it is a different experience entirely that listening to it on audiobook, as I did. I missed out on the futuristic spelling (I think Speth’s friend Nancy might actually have been spelt ‘Nancee’ because I happened to glance at my phone when that was a chapter heading in the second book) and the use of capital letters and formatting to help tell the story. Despite this, the audiobook was hugely enjoyable and worked particularly well with the main character being a girl with no voice and a very talented narrator providing her with one.
Katsoulis put a lot of effort into the worldbuilding and the atmospheric setting, giving a plausible futuristic feel by having 3-D printing technology for everything from buildings to food, ads generally overwhelming everyone, InstaSuits so you can instantly sue anyone who slightly inconveniences you for whatever reason, pop up terms of service to ring a doorbell, and corneal implants to give a horrible electric shock anyone who spoke without their wrist cuff attached. In this world, lawyers charge you to speak ‘legalise’ at you, libraries are extinct places called ‘liberties’ (because books only belong to the rich ‘affluents’ and you need to pay for the rights to read them), people who run too far into debt are enslaved, and word costs fluctuate on a word market. Parents can’t even tell their kids ‘I love you’ because it’s too expensive. Trying to circumvent the system will result in a fine that may lead to legal enslavement to pay off the debt.
When Speth turns 15, she is expected to read a contract binding her to a sponsor before she is allowed to say anything else, but when she refuses, her society simply can’t accept her flouting her ‘civic duty’. Rich people try to force her to speak, lawyers come after her and her family for daring to ‘challenge’ the tightly controlled and regulated system, and her silence becomes a protest and a movement that other people join. Also, Speth is of Latinx heritage, in case anyone’s interested in that.
This book was just so overwhelmingly enjoyable that I loved it from page one and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved every part, from the insanely detailed and awesome worldbuilding to the gentleness and depth of the character building for both major to minor characters. Everyone felt three dimensional with real motivations. You’d think a novel where the main character cannot, will not, and does not speak might not be that interesting, but Speth encountered a lot of conflict in her journey, from her inability to communicate and offer support to her sister, to trying to communicate through ‘public domain’ movements such as micro-shrugs and zipped lips.
I went into this novel only having read the blurb, so I don’t want to spoil anything beyond the worldbuilding examples I’ve already mentioned, but I hope it entices you enough to give this book a go. I get the feeling this book would make a really awesome novel for an English class to study, with its commentary on how capitalism, greed, and affluence ruins the lives of everyone not fortunate enough to be in the one percent. It is also a great introduction to copyright (even if in this world it’s gone too far), which, with the rise of social media, should be something school age kids are learning about so someone doesn’t sue them for posting a photo they found on Google on a website.
It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much from the very first page.