Neuronal freedom!

Julià Guillamon

One of the things I like most about the job of critic is when everything turns tedious, when you’re about to fall asleep in the arms of the eternal return, and an author you aren’t aware of shows up and publishes a book you can recommend with abundant praise. This is what’s happened to me with Teresa Colom’s Consciousness, a short philosophical novel about life outside the body, or in her terms, neurotransfer and life in continuation.

For a long time, immortality has been a frequent topic in science and philosophy, bringing together technological progress, the research of Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, and transhumanism. The first person to deal with these subjects in Catalan fiction was Miquel de Palol in The Testament of Alcestis (2009), one of his best books despite its excesses. Consciousness is a much simpler and easier-to-read novel, with a single thread: the story of Laura Verns, a woman in her forties who is found to have a brain tumor and decides to turn to a company that offers the terminally ill access to another dimension of life unbound to the body.

It’s an idea that offers much food for thought. Behind it we can recognize such classics as Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable. It also has a problem: since the protagonist doesn’t move and delivers her story in a monologue, the narrator has to write very well to keep the reader from growing weary. There’s no action, but the backgrounds and the scenes with a friend, with her psychologist (one of the conditions of life in continuation is that the person who enters the program accept constant contact with a psychologist), with another psychologist and with another friend are all there is. Through this network of memories and contacts, Colom reconstructs the phases that have led to the creation of this vicarious life and, later, the consolidation of a business oligopoly suggestive of the leading brands of digital capitalism (which are, incidentally, the backers of Singularity University). As in the classic Blade Runner, the system fails in its first version. As in the classic Terminator, one of the elements Colom brings into play is the mother-daughter relationship. As in the classic Total Recall, one of the questions is whether a memory can ever be totally erased.

There exists a type of science fiction novel in which the construction of the visual setting is so obsessive that it overshadows everything else. In others, the author (or screenwriter in the case of film) changes the rules of the world on the fly to make the action appear more thrilling: this is what happens with the resurrections in Episode IX of Star Wars. One of the saving graces of Conscience is that its creation of a virtual world permits an examination of great human themes: the fear of death, fidelity, memory, forgetting, and suspicion.

The relationship the people of 2029 maintain with the past is very interesting. Before dying, Laura works in a Department of Historical Consistency offering services to works of fiction and audiovisual entertainment. A garment, a piece of paper trigger her thoughts.

A ground-breaking novel, even more so if you recall that this is only the author’s second work of narrative. Along with Carme Torras’s Caught in the Web, it is a trailblazing novel.

From Tyrell Corp. to Lotusland: the economy. Teresa Colom (La Seu d’Urgell, 1973) is an Andorran who studied Economics at the Pompeu Fabra University. She has written several books of poetry and was co-director of the Barcelona Poetry Festival.

Perhaps her background in economics explains the quality of the economic subplot in Consciousness: above all her description of the functioning of Lotus Corp. (the equivalent of Tyrell Corp. in Blade Runner) or the creation of Lotusland, an attempt to keep minds liberated from their bodies investing and consuming services.

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