Now however McRenegade I may be, I’m still thinking that reviewing one of my own books might be seen as somehow not quite right, but this month sees a significant event in my personal publishing history. On 20th October it’ll be 5 years since Brand Loyalty was published. The date 20/10/2010 appealed to me, though the story was first ‘born’ in the early 1990’s. And in those days the close future dystopia was set in the year 2005. In its first incarnation Brand Loyalty was pitched to Channel 4 as a drama series – but they felt it was too ‘bleak’ to feature on their programming schedule! It lingered around for some years, was partially re-written as a stage play, and then went onto the back burner as the years progressed. With the emergence of digital technology I finally sat down to write it as a novel. My rationale was twofold: A story that stays with you for more than a decade must have ‘legs’ of some sort, and – perhaps more importantly- if I didn’t write it soon it would no longer be a near future dystopia but a history.
The publishing journey thus began. We are talking the days before both twitter and true print on demand. And that’s only five years ago. I did a short run very limited edition of paperbacks which sold out before publication date. I re-printed with a new cover, both of these under my own publishing imprint HoAmPresst Publishing. I subsequently published it via YouWriteOn (now itself transformed into FeedARead I believe) with a groovy alternative cover. And I got on with my life. I’m a look forward sort of person. I’d lived with Brand Loyalty in my head for a decade by now remember, and it seemed time to let it go.
Fast forward to 2012. Amazon Kindle was the new publishing phenomenon. So I girded my loins, learned how to format ebooks and published Brand Loyalty in Kindle format. There was something of an ironic twist to the fact that Amazon itself bears some rather striking resemblences to the fictional Ultimate company. I did a free giveaway and laughed till I cried as it hit #1 on the political novels category. Such fame, of course, is shortlived. Unless you are part of the Ultimate Corporation, which very evidently I am not.
Once I'd garnered some interesting reviews I re-published the paperback – we’re still not into the world of true Print on Demand yet – and included some ‘reviews’ in the fly-leaf. And promoted it round social media. And got on with my life. Again.
Now, in 2015, it comes back to my mind because of the 5th anniversary of publication. Books do have a life of their own, and perhaps a shelf-life. Brand Loyalty still has something to offer as a mirror held up to our society, but with every day the bits that are true become more true and there’s a fair share of ‘Tomorrows World’ inaccuracies. Which should not, at least at this point in time, spoil enjoyment (if that’s the right word for a dystopic novel) of the read. But I'm thinking it might be withdrawn from publication soon, before its 'useby' date. And I'm thinking of writing Brand Loyalty 2020 - but don't hold your breath. There's a lot of other projects ahead of it in the creative queue of my life.
Here in 2015 publishing is easier than ever. With the advent of true Print on Demand (which means I don’t have to hold ‘stock’ and readers can get a brand new book printed for them and delivered direct simply by clicking a few buttons) I have looked at my ‘stock’ cupboard. Time for a clear out. I find that I have 20 paperback copies of Brand Loyalty left, which are up for grabs during October. I’ll sign them and they will be the last copies to be published under the HoAmPresst imprint so they are collector’s items already. And I’m going to do another Amazon giveaway on 1st and 2nd October and 19th/20th/21st October – I’d encourage you to download it while its free. Best before 22nd October 2015 and may disappear from view any time after that.
That’s enough from me for now – though I’ll be back during the month popping up saying other salient things about the history and future of Brand Loyalty – so I’ll leave you with a mash-up of some reviews about Brand Loyalty to help you decide if this is a book you want to read – which after all is the purpose of reviews.
Brand Loyalty is set in the future, a future which is horribly near. It is a thought provoking, page turner which explores life in a consumerist dystopia run by ULTIMATE. Despite living in such a virtual environment the characters of the young people Omo, Flora and Nike are engaging and authentic and make us want to believe there is a way to circumvent ULTIMATE and live a 'real' life again. It is not a comfortable read and this book raises questions - about memory, about reality, truth and whether we can prevent the creation of this monstrous world. What is so scary about Brand Loyalty is its plausibility. When you look around, you see the world of ULTIMATE is already almost upon us.
Mary Smith December 2010
The premise of the book is clever and very, very contemporary. It is set in the world the week after next, when the world and its population are controlled by the system.
It concentrates on one family, and their accidental effects on others inside the system, and how the world we recognise collides with the world being created.
Trying not to write a spoiler, it is a gentle rebuke to all of us who enjoy social networks rather than society and socialising, online shopping to the High Street, and who retreat to the immediate buzz of technology instead of the more human excitements of engagement and involvement!
Colin Moss April 2011.
Brand Loyalty sent me straight out of doors for a walk. Never mind that this is February and there’s semi-thawed snow on the ground and my crutches skid on the ice. I needed to feel the sharpness of fresh air and experience actual, muscular movement. Walking, in the world of Brand Loyalty, is a subversive act. Consumers are most ‘productive’ when they remain passive, sitting in front of their enormous US™ screens: gaming, ordering pre-prepared, mono-branded food or, in the case of the elderly (the Victims) watching endless re-runs of packaged memories, which may, or may not, be their own. There is no need to travel – holidays are a thing of the past as are relationships, families, actual sex and the countryside.
Especially for the Project Kids. These selected youngsters are presented as the lucky ones. They are cocooned in the most comfortable accommodation, supplied with the largest US™ screens and earn their credits by interacting in consumer forums and playing the newest games to the highest levels. Project Kids are unlikely to want to go outside the perfect world of their compound – why should they? Everything they need has already been provided and anyway the purpose of their existence is to provide the living data that will enable ULTIMATE® always to be one step ahead in providing whatever is necessary to keep consumers passively consuming. If a Project Kid does want to go outside (thus offering alternative data for the psychological profilers to analyse) they have only to contact their counsellor and a licensed fuel efficient pod will be provided. Why walk?
Why visit a VCC (Victim of the Credit Crunch)? Why attend a birthday party? All these things are dangerous as they might encourage emotion, conversation or, worst of all, an interest in personal memory. It’s an unsettling day for Nike, Omo and Flora when they decide to visit Nike’s grandmother, Helen, who lives in a small magnolia-painted room with nothing to do except sort through the items in her Memory Bank. The danger is that Helen has lived in History.
HISTORY: Definition. A time in the past when people worried about what had happened before their own time and tried to use their worries to predict what would happen in the future. A pointless exercise. EXAMPLE: History is bunk.
There is a black humour in Brand Loyalty, which sometimes tips into comedy. The children have brought flowers for Helen.
‘ “They smell just like real ones,” she observed.
Nike, Omo and Flora exchanged puzzled glances.
“They are real ones, Nan,” Nike said. She’d got confused. She was old. What could you do?’
The flowers are plastic. For the children they are real because they are not virtual. They are tangible and have cost Flora half an hour’s ‘productive labour’ in a chatroom. Helen, though, has lived the best years of her life on a farm where the air is sharp and the winters cold and February a month of hibernation, tingling with the promise of spring. Her knowledge vault is ‘awesome’. Nike likes to visit her because of his secret addiction to the question Why? The question that is always about to send him overdrawn in the ULTIMATE® credit system.
Brand Loyalty is overtly and intelligently Orwellian. The relentless definitions churned out by the ubiquitous US™ may also recall the M’Choakhumchild system in Hard Timeswhere a horse became a ‘graminivorous quadruped’. The crushing of curiosity and individuality satirised by Dickens amid the surroundings of the Industrial Revolution is directly analogous to the post-Marxian processes favoured by the ULTIMATE®Corporation. Brand Loyalty is set in 2030, only twenty years after GRendHist (the Global Recession to End History) when global capitalism has succeeded in producing a homogenised, subservient population. People have blithely up-loaded their personal data, they have acquiesced with its migration from a hard drive to a cloud and have never worried who might be profiting from this.
As I set off for my walk, invigorated by Brand Loyalty’s sparklingly cerebral mix of contemporary events, analysis and projection to the not-at-all distant future, I couldn’t help relishing the irony that I’d read it on a Kindle, delivered wirelessly from Amazon, an organisation directly fingered as a significant step on the road to ULTIMATE®. I might want to tweet about the experience, upload it to my social networks, tag it for the benefit of other consumer ‘communities’. Exactly like a privileged resident of the Project House.
But within every organisation there’s the danger posed by the random element, the system anomaly, the Trojan Horse. That’s what Nike represents and Cally Phillips too. Her book is chilling but brilliant. I think she should look carefully over her shoulder when she next steps outside
Julia Jones February 2012.
This chilling look at our very near future put me in mind of the works of Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. The author here does a remarkable job of highlighting our stupidity and easy acceptance of a corporate future, and provides a stark view of how easily our lives can change in a very changing world. After reading this, few would want to share their personal information on-line knowing how it can all be captured, repackaged and sold back to us. In Phillip's vision of Britain in 2030, we see how Big Business has long since destroyed our capacity to think and reason for ourselves and how, in a world post-economic collapse, life might seem preferable lived out in a virtual world, a corporate-imposed cocoon where we are all good consumers. The author has created a horrifying future that is just simply all too real. I may have finished reading this book but I don't think I will ever stop thinking about it. Once you start seeing things in the author's ULTIMATE ® world, the parallels with our own are rather too close for comfort.
Harry Houdinski, March 2012
Brand Loyalty, Cally Phillips's brave and all-too-relevant novel, is disturbing not least because of its plausibility. The novel is set in the not-too-distant future, with the world dominated by ULTIMATE®: a fictional (but frighteningly believable) sort of super-corporation, a merger of the most successful businesses and brands. ULTIMATE® operates as an extension of today's internet, whereby almost every aspect of human life, including such highly individual and personal matters and sex and even memory, takes place online. Individuality is discouraged, and the line between the real and virtual worlds not so much blurred as nonexistent.
The ULTIMATE® world is an extension, or logical offshoot, of our own, with its emphasis on consumerism, online interaction and data-sharing. Feel comfortable disclosing your personal details online? Brand Loyalty might make you think twice: `The promise was of everything tailored to the individual. Meanwhile the individual was tailored to the ULTIMATE® template of citizenship. Result? Perfect. All-embracing. Terrifying. And unnoticed.' Sound familiar?
At the forefront of this new world are the Project Kids: a privileged group of youngsters who live an insulated existence in special accommodation, and who spend most of their time sitting in front of US screens, playing games and contributing to chat forums - all judged as `productive work', in the ULTIMATE® world. Nike, Omo and Flora (yes, those are their names) have little experience or concept of reality, no appreciation of history, and no grasp of human emotion.
At the other end of the social spectrum is Helen, Nike's grandmother, who lives in an ULTIMATE® home. An elderly and defeated woman, she is confined to a magnolia-painted room where she has nothing to do but think of her past - a past that was largely spent in the pre-ULTIMATE® world. Helen is a representative of the older generation: a generation that experienced real music and emotion and sex, went for walks, and ate real food (as opposed to pre-packaged ULTIMATE® food). When Nike goes to visit his grandmother, his orderly world begins to unravel as he and his friends begin to glimpse an alternative to the ULTIMATE® model, and then do the unthinkable: they question the system (which has, as Phillips dryly points out, `rarely ever been considered appropriate behaviour for members of that system.')
It's ironic, I suppose, that this chilling portrait of an all-too-conceivable near-future should have been bought online from a huge international corporation, and delivered wirelessly to an e-reading device. But then again, it's an indication of just how plausible Brand Loyalty is. I only hope it's not prophetic.
Mari Biella, January 2013
I wish I had a pound for every dystopia I've ever read. I may not end up rich, but I could buy a few more branded goods with the money - and therefore I'd fall straight into Cally Phillips's trap. If dystopias are formed by identifying contemporary features and extending them to their logical conclusions, then this is the ultimate dystopia because it's taking the the whole principle of what fuels our present society and extending its appalling implications to virtual infinity. Corporate totalitarianism. What a terrifying concept. And yet it's here already. The current TV programme No Sex Please, We're Japanese depicts men retreating from actual life and finding satisfaction in a virtual, contactless world - and countless others are following. In the vision Cally Phillips depicts, this is the norm. The ULTIMATE(R)corporation is now everyone's reality, where everything is barcoded, trademarked, copyrighted and there is no notion of individual personality or ownership. The ultimate prize is a pod which traps you for ever into unreality. Children think plastic flowers are real, history and the future have disappeared and what's left is the deadly prison of the present. Can this dreadful world be somehow repealed? Well, reality and humanity still exist,and ULTIMATE(R)cannot force the choice because the mind is its own place and has the power to come to a different conclusion. But can the few protesters ever subvert the process? Has Helen at the end reached the only remaining reality? Is the message of the final parable all we have left? This is an amazing, searing book. Other reviewers have wanted it to be filmed or televised. I agree; it would be brilliant. But as the real(?)-life ULTIMATE(R) Corporations creep subtly over us, would anybody dare?
Neil Sydenham, October 2013
And a couple of shorter comments:
This book is chilling - the sort of book that makes a long, cold, dark night seem worse by all those adjectives. It's good to know that someone can still take hold of the basic Orwellian nightmare and make something new and meaningful out of it. Fantastic.
This is a challenging novel which paints a disturbing view of a future in which brands and advertising have completely taken over. A thought-provoking read.
And finally, one which just shows that Channel 4 got it wrong all those years ago!
I want to see this on TV!
Don't get me wrong - I'm a lover of books and I loved this one in many ways. But to my mind, it's a story that cries out for visual enactment and dramatisation. It's exactly the sort of thing that Channel 4, if I had my way, would be showing on our screens.
Where to begin? This is partly the story of Helen, one of my generation, currently middle-aged but, since this is 2030, she's now `old', and because she's one of the unlucky ones she's living a sad, impoverished existence in a dreary `home'. Helen is a VCC - a victim of the credit crunch (interestingly, the first drafts of this story were written in the 1990s, long before the `real' credit crunch). The CC was the end of History and the beginning of Today - and the online dictionaries reflect this boundary by giving two definitions of every word - one `In History' and one `Today'. (Yes, there are strong echoes of 1984. Orwell's I mean, not Thatcher's, though come to think of it...)
Helen has lost her much-loved husband and children and now lives with only her memories - though the whole notion of memory has a different cast in these times. Memories, even the most personal ones, are always social constructs to some extent, but Phillips has stretched this notion to a frightening but not implausible degree.
`Brand Loyalty' is also the story of three `Project Kids': Nike, Omo and Flora (yes, these really are their names), who are being trained to play their part in the brave new world of ULTIMATE(R) . ULTIMATE(R) can be thought of as an amalgamation of the world's largest companies (naming no names here) - it's the ultimate `brand'.
`Brand Loyalty' is set in Edinburgh, but it's a future version of that city where there is no longer any Scottish Parliament or even a Royal Commonwealth Pool. Presumably, ubiquitous virtual reality has removed the need for the latter, while ULTIMATE(R) has overtaken the functions of government. In 2030, everyone is a consumer - consumption rules. Much of life is lived online, including most sexual encounters. But this isn't really sci-fi. It's a near-future scenario, much of which, you feel, is already beginning to happen in our day. It's social engineering built on the back of rampant capitalism, consumerism and IT. And, of course, greed. It denies individuality and progressive thought - any kind of challenge to the system. It's frightening, I have to say, because it could almost literally be Tomorrow's World, if not today's...
So, as the Project Kids watch the world's last tiger die on their screens - is resistance useless and is freedom doomed?
Things change. Helen talks to the project kids. One of them falls in love and comes to her for advice. It's poignant, hearing Helen talk about love as it was, in the lost world she remembers. Another kid starts posing questions - difficult ones that he's not really meant to ask. One question leads to another and he soon uses up his quota (which has to be paid for by useful work - doing consumer surveys in the main). But Nike (or Nick, as Helen, his gran, insists on calling him) ploughs on, uncovering all kinds of inconvenient truths, making contact with a rebel group and... let's just say shaking things up.
As for Helen - is there any escape for her, in any kind of life, from her institutional magnolia-painted walls?
`Brand Loyalty' is the most challenging, disturbing and fascinating book I've read for quite some time. It deserves to be widely read - and, if possible, seen. Please, someone - put it on TV.
That’s what other people have said, so why not give it a read yourself and make up your own mind. Like I said, it’s FREE as a Kindle on the following dates: 1st/2nd and 19th/20th/21st October so you can get it just by clicking HERE. (UK link)
Or if you prefer your books ‘real’ then to get your hands on one of the last 20 copies of the 1st edition signed by me and direct from publisher HoAmPresst, click HERE.