Claustrophobic dystopia (5 stars)
“There was nothing to do, no place to go, the city pressed in around him and every square foot of it was like this filled with people, children, noise, heat.”
Make Room! Make Room! imagines the 1999 of the “future” – it was written in 1966 – where 35 million people live in New York. The world’s resources are all but exhausted and people live literally on top of each other. Because of the overcrowding, it is also a world of great social strife, with daily violent protests as the social security rations dwindle.
The story follows a police detective called Andy Rusch, who is sent to investigate the murder of a big shot mobster with ties to politicians. Much of the book shows the heavy contrast between the upscale living conditions of the rich and the dog eat dog world of the majority of the population. Even so, resources like water and meat are expensive and getting rarer even for the wealthy. The book made me feel spoiled for taking for granted the simple luxuries of being able to eat a steak, having a shower or a cup of coffee.
“The meat was indescribably good and he cut it into very small pieces, savoring each one slowly.”
It is a very claustrophobic book, that shows a vision of a future in slow but inevitable decline brought by overpopulation. Institutions like the police are all but scrapped, murder cases pile up and go by with no investigation, detectives are sent to riot duty to contain the hungry masses. The descriptions of the crowds are gripping and privacy is non-existent, not really because of mass surveillance, but because people are everywhere and families need to share apartments.
“The oil is gone, the topsoil depleted and washed away, the trees chopped down, the animals extinct, the earth poisoned, and all we have to show for this is seven billion people fighting over the scraps that are left, living a miserable existence – and still breeding without control.”
The book was adapted to film in 1973 as Soylent Green, with Charlton Heston as Rusch. The film differs a bit from the book as it focuses more on the origin of the Soylent substance used to feed the masses. In “Make Room!” when it seems that things cannot get any worse they sure became even worse, in heartbreaking ways. It is an incredible and claustrophobic dystopia about a still very much possible future of dwindling resources.