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Stealing Time by Rebecca Bowyer

Title: Stealing Time

Author: Rebecca Bowyer

Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction

Publisher: StoryAddict Press

Published: 23rd March 2021

Format: Paperback

Pages: $32.99

Price: 290

Synopsis: They’ll kill to get more time. She’ll die to stop them.

In a world where each person’s life span is limited by law, time is a lucrative commodity that some people will do anything to get more of.

Fourth-dimension physicist, Dr Varya Galanos, invented the technology that time thieves used to murder children by stealing their remaining years of life. Although it was destroyed 10 years ago, and the thieves brought to justice, she still suffers from the burden of guilt.

Masquerading as a lowly lab technician at the Minor Miracles Foundation, Varya finds a certain peace searching for cures for rare childhood diseases, like the one which took her 4-year-old son, Kir, away from her.

The Foundation is secretly funded by Varya and her employee and confidante, Marisa Volkov, by selling illicit time tabs to wealthy patrons. When dissolved on the tongue, a single time tab grants a person four extra hours in their day.

The time tab technology is highly valued – and highly illegal – in a society where Time Chips are inserted into each child’s brain stem at birth. Lives are limited to just sixty-five years to conserve the planet’s ever-dwindling resources.

Varya’s tenuous peace is shattered when children start disappearing again. She fears the worst – that the time thieves have returned and have somehow resurrected the technology to steal precious years from children.

Varya is the only one who can find a way to reverse the time drains and save the returned children. But doing so could cost the lives of those she holds dearest.

When her best friend’s son becomes a victim, returned with just hours to live, she is faced with an impossible choice.

~*~

Rebecca Bowyer’s second book, Stealing Time, is another dystopic science fiction set in a near future Australia, where the drain on resources has set so many government laws and initiatives in motion about productivity. Everyone is expected to be productive and contribute to society. It’s been determined that nobody can be productive beyond the arbitrary age of sixty-five, and as such, everyone is implanted with a Time Chip at birth that counts down their life span. Yet people can still die before their allotted time, and those deemed unproductive may have less time than others.

Underground movements have jumped up, selling Time tabs that give you time extensions – experimental, so neither legal nor illegal. Perhaps legal-adjacent. At the heart though, is a mother, Varya, who has lost her son, and is hot on the trail of the time thieves from ten years ago. Back then, they were stealing time from children, and now, they’re back again. The son of Varya’s friend, Zoe, has fallen victim to these predators, and Varya is the only one who has the answers. So she has a choice to make: save Daniel, or save every child. Or the alternative – can she find a way to do both?

This new book is at times unsettling – the idea that we know we come with an expiration date and we know when this will come has a  sense of feeling as though even if you can be productive, your time will be ended – and at times, I felt as though there were hints that younger people were victims of this – based on class, health and other variants that might indicate a sense of class warfare as well: if you’re rich, it seems as though you deserve to have all the time in the world. If you’re poor or middle class, it feels as though you’re not really important. As though some aspects of life do not matter to those who can change laws and the way things work with the slash of a pen.

At the same time, it also has a sense of a definitive life – we know when things will end. This might give people some comfort – knowing what they have time to do but again it is a double-edged sword. If you’re wealthy you can do whatever you want with this time, yet if not, you’re forced into a life of productivity – which feels like something that is happening now. So much focus on productivity, making sure we contribute to society, where if – in the book and our own world – it can feel as though we’re not doing well if we’re not being productive all the time and contributing to society.

So what does this mean for Varya, Zoe, Daniel, Elena and Marisa, the five people who tell the story? It means that secrets are kept, and that as the narrative emerges, each person tells one part of what they know at the right time, easily marked to show whose perspective we are in at each chapter. It allows for lots of questions to be raised, and as we progress, links to be made in this unsettling yet eerily realistic book (apart from the government determining when our lives terminate). It’s a book that speaks to motherhood, love, friendship, ageism and productivity biases within society that show age and ability should not be a determinate for what we can do, coupled with the perils of a world that has dwindling resources and is faced by the ravages of climate change. It’s the sort of story that we hope won’t become a reality, yet has a sense that it might, even if we don’t implant people on chips, but put limitations on how people can form their families or be productive.

It is the kind of book that is easy to read, yet makes you think, and that could also be one that you spend time with as you try to unwrap everything that is happening in it – narratively, socially and politically, as well as ethically. One could say that the main characters have no or looser morals, and act in ethically-adjacent ways – they’re trying to help people for the right thing, but they have to operate underground and away from the law.

This is a book that can show what might happen in a society that starts to value productivity over a good, balanced life. The core message of the importance of family and friends over the laws of productivity. It will hopefully show that productivity is not the most important thing in life, and that everyone, regardless of their age, can be productive and contribute to society in their own way. This is a thought-provoking book, and  one that will open up all kinds of conversations about the future and everything touched on in this book.

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