In near-future Silicon Valley, a young unemployed software engineer joins a tech giant’s secretive community seeking shelter from the chaos of a failing world. But this ideal society is not, in fact, so perfect.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
There are many dystopias, and many critiques of the modern world, but I felt that they often weren't close enough together, and I saw the collision of climate change and the trajectory of megacorporations as a compelling way to explore that intersection. I also wanted to center a character like me, someone who sees the flaws in the tech industry from the inside.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
When books include women in tech, the characters often work in marketing or business. These are important roles in the tech industry, but all of my female friends are engineers, just like I am! Platformed's protagonist, Sara, is a software engineer with a background much like my own, and she, like all of the characters in the book, are loosely inspired by real people I know in Silicon Valley. None draw too much from any single real person, but many of their experiences and traits reflect real things and real people.
If THIS WENT AS SHE hoped, Sara would soon be invisible.
The little building was low and unassuming; starkly human amid so much nature, all smooth concrete and black glass, it sat upon the dunes like a barnacle. No familiar logo in sight and nothing like the corporate campus Sara had driven past a thousand times, but it could only be the entry to her new life.
It made sense that it was so simple. They wouldn’t want it associated with their brand if things went wrong inside.
She followed her friends from the car along a path cut into the landscape, their footprints falling apart in the rain-damp sand behind them. Green lichen and red succulents and twisted salt bushes swept across the hills. In the distance, waves rolled silver and constant under the cloudy sky, beating against the shore like her heart on her ribs and her feet on the sand.
She wondered what would happen to her rickety old car, left alone in the empty parking lot. She pictured it swallowed by the dunes, buried by the hungry sand, unnoticed by anyone who might come after.
How strange that the parking lot was empty, she thought. Their choice to come quickly had been wise, it seemed—before a tide of fleeing people tried to do the same.
Or maybe no one else was coming. Maybe they were fools, falling for something rather than cleverly getting out ahead of the masses who saw through it.
Sara lingered on the edge of her new life, searching the empty highway for her sister’s car, hoping that, somehow, she had caught up to them in time.
They reached the building. Zach held the door in some semblance of chivalry that part of her hated and another part loved. She watched him stand in the rain as she let the other three women enter before her, not minding the rain dripping down her nose. A few more moments to breathe fresh air and smell the sea.
The air inside the building was dry and cool, with too much air conditioning for a drizzly winter day. She expected books on shelves and racks of t-shirts and hoodies scattered about, all the signifiers of the company that so many wore as badges of honor, but instead it was empty. Their footsteps echoed off brushed cement walls and bare wood. Skylights let in the day from above.
In the center of the room, a youngish woman with gray-streaked blonde hair stood behind a counter, smiling blandly. Her expression was almost robotic, giving the impression that she had been standing there alone and smiling for hours.
Sara glanced at Beatrice beside her, who smiled slightly—reassuringly. Sara looked away.
This had been Bea’s idea. They all waited for her to act.
She stepped forward and Sara fixated on her red-purple dyed hair, how familiar it was amid so much strangeness. Sara would never have followed anyone else into this unknown future.
“Is this the screening center?” Bea asked. “Maps said we had arrived, but…”
The woman nodded and her smile stretched wider. “Yes, you’re in the right place! I’ll help each of you, just line up.”
Bea glanced back at her friends, asking a silent question.
“Entry is an individual process,” the woman went on. “But it’ll go quickly, don’t worry. Just wait right there.” She gestured at a sign that said Please Wait in sans-serif font, dark gray on cool blue. Calming colors.
Sara did not feel calm, and she did not feel like waiting.
Bea approached the counter. Sara noticed that the others—Priya and Cleo who she had met just weeks before and Zach who she had lived with for years—hung back. She stepped forward, second in line.
The woman spoke to Bea in soft tones and Bea replied in a murmur. Sara made out occasional words, but nothing consequential. The woman spun a tablet to face out and Bea glanced at it, flipping through the pages, then clicked, signed, and smiled awkwardly over her shoulder at them, apologetic and encouraging.
Bea followed the woman to the back of the room and disappeared through a set of swinging black doors. Sara swallowed, took a deep breath, and approached the counter as the woman returned to her station.
“Your friend tells me you fled the fires up north,” the woman said pleasantly.
“You must reply verbally.”
“Okay,” the woman said. Her eyes flicked almost imperceptibly from side to side. Sara turned as if to follow her gaze but saw nothing that should have caught her attention. “What do you know about what we do here?”
Sara shrugged. “Not a lot.” She paused, thought. “It’s one of the intentional communities.”
“Good, good. We like you to come in without preconceptions. Your friend, well, she had a lot of ideas…”
“Will that…” Sara’s voice cut off and she had to clear her throat before proceeding. Why was she so nervous? Job interviews never bothered her, especially after all the practice she had in the last year. “Will that be a problem for her?”
The woman smiled again. “I just do the initial screening,” she said, as if that was an answer.
She seemed to expect a reply, so Sara said, “Okay.”
“Anything else we should know about you?”
Sara blinked. What could possibly qualify? “Um…no?”
“Lovely!” the woman said. “Just great.” She typed a few things into the tablet, biting her lip, then nodded decisively and turned it to face Sara. “Just fill this out, read the disclaimer, and sign at the bottom.”
A little note at the top of the page read 1/24. Sara couldn’t believe how quickly Bea had worked through the document—unless she’d had a shorter one. What did it mean if they were given different forms? Had one of them been rejected already?
The words swam before her eyes and Sara realized she was on the verge of tears. She told herself not to be silly. This was no reason to cry. She was making the right choice.
The first page was a very standard intake form like at a doctor’s office—name, age, address. Do you have any of the following medical conditions? Do you have any allergies? Have you traveled outside the United States in the past twelve months, or to the Southeast or Hawaii where tropical diseases are a concern?
The next several pages seemed to be a personality test, a long list of statements that she had to rate on a scale from Agree to Disagree.
I am an anxious person.
Being around people recharges me.
I am very organized.
I lose things often.
She quickly forgot everything about herself as she clicked down the page.
Didn’t they already know everything about her? She’d used their platform for fifteen years, their servers watching her every click, purchase and comment. She imagined they knew her better than she knew herself.
Pages six through eleven were a long list of puzzles. An IQ test?
Sara assumed that she failed it because by that point she was panicking.
She felt acutely aware of her friends standing behind her, waiting for a turn, while she lurked over the glowing screen and stared into its void. No way Bea had had the same never-ending survey; she would have still been taking it.
The next few pages were easier, asking her to fill in her education and employment history. It wasn’t long—high school, college, a few short-term roles and one long job before her recent year of unemployment.
She assumed most people who came here had that last element in their work history, so it didn’t bother her to note it down. Much.
14/24. What else could they possibly want to know?
With a sigh, she flipped the page and was faced with a solid block of text, smaller than on the previous pages, written in dense legalese.
This was the sort of terms and conditions she knew she should thoroughly read, and she did try—but after detailing shortcomings in her personality, intelligence and career, and with people waiting behind her, and with the knowledge that Bea certainly had not read anything like this in the scant minute she’d looked at the tablet, Sara couldn’t bear another glance.
She almost made it through the first page before losing the ability to comprehend a single word. Feeling like a failure once again, she clicked through to the end and signed with her finger on the screen, then handed the tablet back to the woman, feeling drained.
“Welcome,” the woman said, and her artificial smile stretched even wider.
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