So I wrote this book about a year and a half ago called Life After Sleep, about what people like me, and people that I knew, would do if suddenly there were that extra six hours in the day that everyone always says they wish they had. My answer, and I feel as confident of this today as when I initially wrote it, was “work more.” Maybe the work would look different; they’d be getting in their Cardio Kick at the gym at 4 a.m. or squeezing in time to answer that backlog of emails on their smartphone while they waited for the sun to come up, but what it boiled down to was that I felt certain the laws of physics would bear me out. People in motion tend to stay in motion, and six extra hours in a day wouldn’t suddenly turn a culture of overly-busy individuals into part-time couch potatoes. The same arguments that brought us the ten-hour workday and the 24-hour Blackberry shackle would eventually give rise to a sixteen hour workday and a heap of other unrealistic expectations that employers would heap on us if we didn’t do it to ourselves first. After all, why settle for regular old analog sleep when there’s so much life out there to be lived?
The story seemed to really resonate with a certain cross-section of busy, stressed-out, sleep-deprived readers who, in deliciously ironic fashion, occasionally told me they’d stayed up late to read or finish the book. They told me that sci-fi didn’t usually appeal to them but that my book was different. That’s because it’s about your life, I wanted to say, and mine too. I even dedicated the book to night owls everywhere, because I know what it feels like to want more than anything for life to go on after the work is done for the day, and I wanted to write a book about that.
I want to preface this by saying that I didn’t initially conceive of Life After Sleep as a prescient book in any way. It was initially inspired by a real-life technology I read about a few years ago called TMS, but, if anything, it was meant to be much more heavily satirical. Nevertheless, in the months since the publication of Life After Sleep, I experienced one of the most satisfying phenomena a sci-fi writer can hope for: my book started coming true. Almost as soon as people began finishing it, I started to get emails from readers saying, “I just read something about that…” with a link to an article or a video describing some facet of the book just then making headlines in the real world.
The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The Sleepless Elite” detailing the degree to which driven, successful individuals, much like the character Lila from Life After Sleep, often profess to need little or no sleep and that this may be a desirable characteristic that points toward a likelihood of success instead of just a lucky quirk of nature. A human geneticist from UC San Francisco was even quoted (and this blew my mind a little because the article was released literally less than a month after the book’s street date) as flatly stating: “My long-term goal is to someday learn enough so we can manipulate the sleep pathways without damaging your health.”
The Marriage Project (“Sleep is the New Sex: how to get more of both”) chimed in with a variety of strategies to plan for sleep the way that beleaguered, overscheduled 21st century adults already take for granted that they have to strategically schedule sex. The implication being, of course, that unless you do, you’re unlikely to get the basic amount you need to call yourself a functional human being. Max from Life After Sleep almost personifies this. If only I could get enough (sex/sleep/work done) my life would return to normal. If I could get caught up, I’d feel less like a failure or, or like younger men are surpassing me because they don’t have my responsibilities, or like a slave to my job, or disappointed in my marriage, or…
Life After Sleep isn’t a very technologically flashy book, though it does have its share of gadgets and what I figured would be the sorts of things my five-year-old son and his generation will have when they get older. My editor Jason Pettus sent me this in October from Lifehacker: “Banjo Alerts You When Friends Are Nearby and Maps All Your Social Network Contacts on Your iPhone or Android,” an app eerily similar to the MyLine maps that Lila uses to locate members of bands in crowded nightclubs and concert venues.
And of course, fittingly, just a few weeks before the book tour starts, I see this article pop up everywhere on Facebook. Tim Kreider at the New York Times writes, in “The Busy Trap,” “What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do,” and I realized that he had basically just described the last five years of my life and the primary thrust of Life After Sleep: that we’re all in it together, that we do it to ourselves, and that even when we think other people don’t understand and it starts to warp us, the other people around us—on the bus, in the waiting room at the dentist, or in front of us in line at Starbucks—they understand.
Mark R. Brand is a Chicago-based science-fiction author and the online short fiction editor of Silverthought Press. He is the author of three novels, The Damnation of Memory (2011), Life After Sleep (2011), and Red Ivy Afternoon (2006), and he is the editor of the collection Thank You Death Robot (2009), named a Chicago Author favorite by the Chicago Tribune and recipient of the Silver medal 2009 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in the category of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the producer and host of Breakfast With the Author and lives in Evanston, IL with his wife and son. Find him online at www.markrbrand.com.