Featured Interview: Lauren McLaughlin
Q. Many dystopian novels are set in a distant future that looks very different from our world today; what made you decide to set this in the not too distant future, essentially just a generation or two removed from where we are now?
A. I don't think you have to look too far into the future to envision nightmare scenarios evolving from current circumstances. We already have surveillance, high stakes testing, potent analytical software that makes judgments about us all the time. When a Google ad pops up on your screen, that's the result of a sophisticated algorithm analyzing your Web habits and making judgments about them. We rank each other by the number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers we have. We're also currently slipping into a desperate situation of massive economic inequality. Wealth is concentrating among fewer and fewer people. The middle class is sinking. The old economy of credit-fueled growth turned out to be a pyramid scheme, and, with that in tatters, there's nothing yet on the horizon to replace it. I don't know where all of this will lead us, but I don't think we're going to have to wait very long to find out. I think we may already be at the leading edge of a real life dystopia. I hope I'm wrong.
Q. Novels that were "required reading" in previous generations are mentioned a few times in Scored (Brave New World, 1984). Did you read either of these when you were in school? Did you discover any books that you still love today because of required reading in school or were you more of a reluctant required reader?
A. I read both Brave New World and 1984 in school. At the time, I was more of a reluctant required reader and the books didn't fully resonate for me. I was a late bloomer. I only fell in love with reading when I was 16, courtesy of an English teacher with a passion for Faulkner. But the strange thing about 1984 is that even though it didn't capture my imagination at the time I read it, the story definitely stuck in my mind. Something about the inescapable nature of that world became a part of my subconscious landscape. That's the power of required reading. You may not know it's in there, but it's in there somewhere. It's part of your understanding of the world and part of the collective unconscious of your peers. It's important for teens to read books of their own choosing for pleasure, but it's equally important for them to read outside of their own preferences. That's where you find those unexpected gems. I never would have chosen a Faulkner novel off the library shelf. The first few pages of The Sound and the Fury went straight over my head. That's a hard book to read. But boy am I glad my teacher made me read it. That book changed my life.
Q. What do you hope that the reader will take away from reading Scored?
A. I want to make people uncomfortable. I want them to feel the seduction of ubiquitous surveillance at the same time as being afraid of it. That's the kind of reader experience I'm looking for. Not only is it vastly more emotionally gripping to love and fear the same thing, but it also reflects, on a philosophical level, precisely the bind we're heading into as a society. Technology is a force for good and evil and we're not always equipped to know the difference. I want readers to think about these issues in complex emotional ways, because it's these complex emotions that will ultimately drive technological and societal change. As an author, I get nothing from creating simple easy-to-hate bad guys. It's too easy. Nor am I interested in reinforcing something people already know and believe. My goal is to make the counter-argument so seductive it occasionally gets mistaken for the argument. This will confuse and anger some readers, but I think it makes for vastly more interesting conversation.
Q. When you were a teen, were you more like Imani or Cady?
A. I would say that I was Imani with Cady itching to burst through. I wasn't a rebel, but I wasn't a conformist either. Truthfully, there wasn't much to rebel against. My teachers were excellent and engaging, my parents were supportive and cool, and most (though by no means all) of my fellow students were decent and kind. There was room in my upbringing for curiosity and doubt, so I never felt stifled. I actually experienced my rebellious phase when I went to college. At that point, I was Cady all the way.