I’m finally getting around to reading one of the many books I bought recently, even knowing that I wouldn’t have time to read them all until some time next year / shouldn’t be reading anything that doesn’t pertain directly to research for this year’s NaNo novel. But The Prisoner, by Carlos J. Cortes, just squeezes into the research category. Even though it seems that the protagonists are going to spend much of the book wandering around the oozy and disgusting sewers of a future Washington, D. C. The central idea of the novel is that criminals now spend their sentences in a state of hibernation, thereby eliminating the old-fashioned, crime-breeding prisons and reducing the costs of housing them.
Like any system, no matter how well developed, it can be abused. Hibernation in a tank of liquid is a convenient way of “disappearing” people who are, for one reason or another, inconvenient to have around. My novel will tackle the same problem that Cortes writes about: how to cope with the increase in crime, and the increasing costs of maintaining criminals in prisons. I’m taking a very different approach, but there is, behind both novels, the question of ethics and human rights. Cortes makes it clear that there was strong opposition to the idea of putting people in hibernation for years at a time. I’ll be making it equally clear that life imprisonment in solitary confinement for violent criminals, and slavery for non-violent criminals who can’t be reformed, are just as hard to accept.
Is there some point beyond which criminals are no longer entitled to consideration for their human rights? As we go into an increasingly crowded and resource-poor future, the question of human rights is going to be at the center of many attempted solutions. That future probably won’t look like either Cortes’ or mine. All science fiction can do is imagine possible futures that do sometimes come to pass.