A Not-So-Novel Idea Involving RFID

By Rich Handley

An implausible new self-published science fiction novel is based around the silly premise of radio frequency identification being used to control the masses and create a dictatorship.

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As the managing editor of RFID Journal, I have several Google Alerts set up to make sure I don’t miss important announcements, press releases and innovations in the areas of radio frequency identification, Near Field Communication, Bluetooth Low Energy and other Internet of Things-based technologies. This enables me to work with my reporting staff to come up with interesting daily content for our website. Sometimes, the links contained in my Google Alerts emails prove quite useful. Other times… well, not so much. A recent batch of alerts fell into the latter category.

Among the headlines was the following: “New sci-fi book imagines how an engineer becomes a dictator with implanted RFID chips.” Now, anyone with knowledge of how RFID technology works, and what its limitations are, will of course recognize the implausibility of this scenario, but I clicked through to learn more. Here’s the release to which it directed me:

Edward Kardashian’s newest political sci-fi story titled “The New Deal: A Novel” (published by Archway Publishing) presents a day that American capitalism dies and begins yielding to a computer-controlled authoritarian regime. David McClurry presents his latest invention, a type of radio-frequency identification (RFID) device before the department of commerce in June of 2035. Though interested by the potential applications of this new hardware in an effort to improve the American economy, the department decides to pass on David’s project. Their decision prompts him to try his luck in politics and launch his own political party three years later.

Notwithstanding the lack of campaign and advertisement funds, McClurry runs for President in the fall of 2038. His political party in limbo after an unexpected arrest and beaten by John Morey of the Democratic Party, David is sentenced to ten years in federal prison for having avenged the murder of a friend. As Morey comes across David’s project the following summer, he sets him free from prison temporarily and asks him to run The Chip, hopefully improving the economy. Aware of Morey’s scheme and unable to fully carry out the Democrats’ plan, McClurry becomes the new dictator of the United States and the new leader of an unprecedented post-capitalist world.

“I want the readers to experience what it would be like to live in a computer-controlled, post-capitalist era and what it would be like to go from nothing to becoming the dictator, controlling everything through an up and coming technology,” Kardashian says.

I decided to give The New Deal: A Novel a try. A science fiction novel about radio frequency identification checks off the boxes for both my vocation and my avocation, so I was naturally curious, though cautiously so. Despite my negative initial reaction to the press release’s typos and awkward phrasing, I vowed to keep an open mind about the book, which was self-published via a company called Archway Publishing. Sometimes, weakly written press materials don’t do justice to the products they’re promoting. Maybe that would be the case here.

I should have followed my gut instinct.

The premise upon which this book hinges—that the U.S. government would decide to implant an RFID chip into every single citizen’s wrist for the purpose of battling “global marketization, over-population and computerization” by monitoring and controlling the actions of every single person and thus every single company, and that this would lead the inventor of said chip (unimaginatively called The Chip) to become a dictator running the entire country—is simply absurd. Plus, even though the author’s bio claims The New Deal follows “the success of The Confabulators,” I was unable to find that prior novel online or even confirm its existence (which is rather amusing, really, given the title).

I should have listened to my inner voice warning me to skip this novel, especially after reading the following description in its Amazon listing: “a political sci-fi story, which couldn’t be any closer to the current state of affairs in politics as well as emerging technologies in computer hardware.” On the contrary, the situation described in the book is nothing at all like the current state of political affairs, and it certainly bears little similarity to how any emerging technologies would ever be used in the real world.

As bad as things are right now in the United States, there is zero chance of the government implanting RFID chips in every single citizen, nor of the population ever agreeing to have that done (witness how insane many are acting over being asked to merely wear masks during a pandemic to protect those vulnerable to illness), nor of such a scheme being remotely effective even if the government did manage to do it. The idea is naïve and unrealistic, displaying a lack of knowledge of how RFID technologies—and governments, for that matter—operate.

I gave The New Deal the old college try, but I simply couldn’t get past the first several chapters. It’s a silly story, badly in need of some major editing, and filled with bizarre characterizations and rambling asides that evoke more cringing than anything else in the reader, all based around warnings regarding an abuse of RFID technology that is simply too alarmist and over-the-top to take seriously. The real chip here is the one on the author’s shoulder. Take my advice and give this book a hard pass.

Rich Handley has been the managing editor of RFID Journal since 2005. Previously, he was the managing editor of Advanced Imaging magazine and the associate editor of Printing News. Rich has authored, edited or contributed to numerous books about pop culture and is also the editor of Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection.