Flashback Fridays: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother . . .

You’re a teenager with a severe disorder that causes seizures and makes it impossible for you to be a part of regular society.  You’ve lived in one home or another most of your life.  But now, some scientists have something new to try, a brain implant that might help heal the brain itself. But are you just another guinea pig?

Do you remember:

Brother Jonathan by Crawford Kilian (Ace, 1985)

Okay, I admit that this is more young adult than middle grade.  But since it’s a flashback day, and I read this when I was ten or eleven, I’m still going to feature it.    This was one of the first futuristic dystopian tales I read that didn’t seem quite so far flung into the future.  It blew me away at the time.

Jonathan lives in a future world where there are no countries–only corporations.  You are either employed by a corporation and constantly under hostile threat from other companies, or you are rich enough to be a stockholder and live a life of idleness and over abundant consumerism.  Or, like Jonathan, you could be a someone whose neurological disorders have left him a drain on resources and a thing to be shunted from care center to care center.  People with no status at all.  Jonathan knows all about that–that kids like him don’t really matter to the bigger world, especially a world where “corporate takeover” means actual warfare.  So he’s surprised and excited when he’s brought to a facility where the scientists are actually trying to fix kids like him with brain implants that are part organic, part computer.

He’s overjoyed when the implants actually work.  For the first time he and the other kids in the program can do things they’ve never been able to do before.  Simple things like feed themselves and dress themselves.  More complicated things like acrobatics.  But the implant doesn’t stop there . . . suddenly these kids find they’re able to do things beyond simple human abilities.  The implants aren’t just fixing them, they’re connecting them and empowering them in new ways.  But with this new found knowledge comes the certain discovery that they aren’t in the program out of charitable impulse–they’re the test subjects, and pretty soon the scientists plan to sacrifice their test subjects to see what the implant has done to their brain.  When an unexpected attack leaves a hole in security, the kids, along with two chimpanzees and a dog also equipped with implants all escape.  But what they don’t know is that they harbor other escapees with them.  Electronic beings called Turings who are owned by the company, but are artificial intelligence programs with their own minds–and who want their freedom.

Now these young people, animals and AIs are fighting for their very existence . . .

This was the very first time I ever encountered the idea of corporate dystopia.  Long before I read Brave New World, this book brought to light the dangers that might follow from unfettered and completely unethical corporate practices.  I was intrigued by the idea.  Crawford Kilian paints a vivid backdrop of have and have nots in his ruthless world.    This is one of the books that really brought me beyond the idea of science fiction being about invention or far future what ifs, or aliens.  It was the book that got me questioning where today’s society and the developments taking place in that society would take us as a civilization.  The old, familiar world  in Brother Jonathan isn’t that far away.  It made me want to read more stories like this and made me want to have discussions about what could happen in the future.

It was also my first encounter with the name Turing (though it’s hardly been my last).  Here the artificial intelligence programs are named “Turings” after Alan Turing, the scientist.   I do remember the thrill of realizing these computer programs were sentient, intelligent personalities with their own will and interests.  Another first for me as a fledgling science fiction reader.

Another first were the elements of cyberpunk that blended into this story of human and computer interaction.   I had encountered nothing in middle grade fiction that was even remotely similar at the time, and I really didn’t see many more elements of Cyberpunk until I picked up  Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson in my teen years.

Crawford Kilian hasn’t really written much for the younger fiction market.   His science fiction and fantasy stories tended to be directed toward the adult reader.  This Canadian novelist, despite most of his books being out of print at this time, remains actively involved in the fields of science fiction and fantasy.  He has several  blogs online that indicate Mr. Kilian continues to follow and voice his opinions and advice on current affairs, politics, and the writers–both new and old–in our society.

Brother Jonathan  has remained an obscure science fiction novel that most readers probably have never encountered.  For me, it was something powerful–and it was part of the reading that helped shore up the foundations of my life-long love of science fiction and fantasy.

What books were transformitive in your own reading experiences?  Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on November 16, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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