Sci-Fi Novel The Sleepless Asks: What If You Were Just Always Awake?

Sci-Fi Novel The Sleepless Asks: What If You Were Just Always Awake?
A crop of the wide-eyed cover of The Sleepless. See the full image below. (Image: Erewhon Books)

In a near-future New York City where some people have lost the ability to sleep, a journalist realises he’s the last person who saw his boss alive before the man’s mysterious death — and he realises he has zero memory of what happened. He also hasn’t slept in a really, really long time. That’s the set-up for debut sci-fi thriller The Sleepless by Victor Manib. Gizmodo shares a first look at the cover and an excerpt today.

First up, here’s a summary of the book:

A mysterious pandemic causes a quarter of the world’s population to permanently lose the ability to sleep — without any apparent health implications. The outbreak creates a new class of people who are both feared and ostracised, and most of whom optimise their extra hours to earn more money.

Jamie Vega, a New York journalist at C+P Media, is one of the Sleepless. When his irascible boss dies in an apparent suicidal overdose, Jamie doesn’t buy this too-convenient explanation — especially given its suspicious timing in the middle of a corporate takeover — and begins to investigate.

Things go awry quickly when Jamie discovers that he was the last person who saw Simon alive. Retracing his steps, he realises he doesn’t remember that night. Not only do the police suspect him, Jamie can’t account for the lost time, and the memory loss may have something to do with the fact that he did not come by hyperinsomnia naturally: through a risky and illegal process, Jamie had biohacked himself to become Sleepless.

As Jamie delves deeper into Simon’s final days, he is forced to confront past traumas, and the consequences of his decision to biohack himself. Along the way he uncovers a terrifying truth about what it means to be Sleepless that will imperil him — and all of humanity.

Here’s the full cover by artist-designer Dana Li, followed by an excerpt from The Sleepless, that offers a peek into the life of the book’s main character Jamie Vega.

Image: Erewhon BooksImage: Erewhon Books

Thursday, 07/09/2043, 12:04 AM

The parcel drone beckons me onto the balcony, its red light blinking against the backdrop of the glittering cityscape. I rush out to meet it, assaulted by the whir of its propellers straining against the weight of its package. When I give it the “all clear,” the drone sets down its delivery: a sturdy black box encased in a net of packing rope. A combination lock holds its lid shut.

The drone disengages and as soon as it flies out of my way, back into the cloudless night sky, I drag the parcel into the apartment and slam the door shut behind me. I tear into the netting and, finding it too tight, I run to the kitchen to grab a knife. I slice through the cords then untangle the knots, fingers trembling, before finally pressing in the key code. The hiss and click are music to my ears. I then lift the lid as one does a treasure chest.

I searched and begged and dissembled and deceived, traded favours and secrets to get my hands on this. A thick stack of papers, maybe two reams worth, each page printed with dates and names and figures and codes. I’d been at this a while, but there’s still nothing as satisfying as holding a smoking gun in your hand.

For months, my energy’s been focused on the July instalment of The Simon Parrish Files, C+P Media’s premier investigative news program. The episode was going to be the culmination of hours upon hours of work, and when it launches at month’s end, it’ll expose a long-buried scheme where Mason Dwyer, junior US senator from Minnesota, funded his campaign with secret donations from anti-Sleepless hate groups.

Sleepless or not, I can’t help but hate the guy. Dwyer first ran in 2036, around the time that the hatred against hyperinsomniacs was at its peak. The election cycle fanned the flames, and the regulation of Sleepless persons was a platform issue on both sides of the aisle. At first, he didn’t have a strong stance either way, understanding that his purple state was deeply divided. But by the time he ran for reelection, he was whistling a different tune: feeling the winds of change, he made pro-Sleepless legislation the centrepiece of his reelection campaign. Now, the two-time junior senator, the former Marine reserve with dashing good looks and a picture-perfect middle American family, is rumoured to be one of the frontrunners for the Republican primary in 2044.

Yet as it turns out, the ‘36 Dwyer campaign got most of its money from the Senate Freedom Fund, a super PAC with unlimited funds from mostly anonymous donors. I say mostly because they’re still required to keep a record of who’s giving what, but the names are almost always holding companies with their own holding companies. A nesting doll of campaign corruption.

If you don’t look too hard, you might miss the shell companies, the fictive entities through which organisations contribute to senate campaigns without having to report donor names. Organisations like the Alliance Defending Normalcy and Vanguards of Vigilance, which are at the forefront of persecuting Sleepless persons. They advocate for the stringent monitoring of the Sleepless, and push for Sleepless discrimination in housing, the workplace, all spheres of social and political life. Those details alone would have been bad enough for Dwyer, but these groups also encouraged, funded, and sanctioned hate crimes. People died.

So you can imagine what kind of damage our piece could do to the good senator.

My boss Simon developed the Dwyer story for months, and since he had an entire team of dedicated professionals at his disposal, he delegated some pieces of the larger puzzle. As one of his assistant producers, my job was to follow the money. I needed to get proof tying the Vanguards of Vigilance to the Freedom Fund super PAC and to Dwyer. I spent hours of sifting through bank records, stock purchase agreements, capital investment receipts, from dozens of companies. The payoff from pulling on that thread is my source, an investment banker favoured by less-than-savoury organisations.

I can’t say that the source has the purest intentions, but at least they’re reliable. The sheafs of paper I hold in my hands prove it. The funds movements are all in here, I only need to assemble the data, separate wheat from chaff. My source gave me backdoor access to the firm’s digital records, and if that were enough, my job would be done in an hour at most. But I can’t sneak into their mainframe for extended periods of time, and besides, everything has to be on paper. Simon wants the data quadruple-checked, and I very well can’t have Simon himself hacking into an investment bank just so he can review what I’ve found. It’s already a minor miracle I even got hard copies. So yeah, I gotta do this old-school. Pen and paper and marker and highlighter and stickie notes and flags. Good thing I’ve got an entire night with nothing to do.

#

Thursday, 07/09/2043, 03:22 AM

I’m on hour three of going through the Vanguards of Vigilance records when I hear a loud crash coming from the hallway outside my apartment. I go and check, and find that a luggage cart has tipped sideways, spilling its load of end tables and ottomans and throw pillows onto the carpeted floor. An older man with a full head of curly grey hair scratches his head in exasperation.

I step out barefoot and in lounge pants, and offer to give him a hand.

“Moving in?” I ask as I lift the upright cart from its side. A beeping sound issues from its motor, and the wheels have locked in place.

“Yes. I’m 9G,” he replies, pointing behind him.

“Welcome to the building. I recently moved here myself.”

“Where from?”

“Locally. Used to live downtown.”

“Yeah? Me too. NYC, born and raised,” he says. “They told me moving at this hour was fine. I hope the racket didn’t wake you.”

“Not at all. No chance of that in this building,” I assure him. All the tenants here at the Excelsior are Sleepless, I almost add, but it’s probably the reason he’s moving in to begin with. I reposition his small furniture, balancing them on the platform of the robotic cart. An elevator dings open and another cart rolls by to join us, carrying an assortment of potted palms.

“What happened to the freight elevator?” I ask. “Movers usually go in through a separate back hallway.”

“The men we hired are downstairs figuring it out. Apparently some bums broke the locks trying to get in through the service entrance. That doesn’t happen a lot around here, does it?”

I wonder what would be more comforting to him — reinforcing this rumour he heard, or explaining that it’s most likely anti-Sleepless vandalism. Maybe he’s used to some light property damage and crude graffiti. Maybe he’s used to delivery folks rushing away after dropping off goods to his door. Maybe he’s used to living in a building that gets noise complaints almost every other day. Maybe he’s all right with added security protocols and the higher building maintenance fees that come with them. He’s a born and raised New Yorker, which means he’s seen it all, but I don’t know his experience with being Sleepless.

“Nah, homeless folks don’t do that. I’m sure that’s not what happened.” I leave the last part open for his imagination.

He gives the luggage cart a firm tug once we load back his furniture. The motor remains unresponsive, though the wheels are no longer braked. I offer to guide the cart along with him, and he thanks me effusively.

We slowly inch toward the far end of the wide hallway typical of the Excelsior building. If I squint, I can still see the former hospital building’s old bones. The corridors that used to lead into different wards, the open entryways that once featured swinging double doors. Tasteful sconces have replaced the industrial light fixtures, but even the carpeting, with its minimalist lines, remind me of the linoleum floors and multicoloured directional tape that one uses to navigate a hospital. As I lose myself in these thoughts, the luggage cart I’m steering starts to feel like a gurney.

“I was a patient here once,” the old man says as though reading my mind. “Decades ago, before they closed it down. Nothing serious, a couple of broken bones. Never thought I’d be back to actually live here.”

“The developers did a great job fixing it up,” I say. “They took a risk buying the building in the first place, but it looks like it’s finally paying off.”

“Give it a few years, no one will even remember this was a quarantine site.”

It’s subtle, but the message is delivered with the old man’s downcast glance. The stealth is not necessary, not here, but I understand the impulse. I’ve had to deploy the coded words and read the clandestine cues, balancing the need to protect myself and the desire to know.

“Did you recently become Sleepless?” I ask without ceremony or hesitation.

“Around New Year’s,” he says. That takes me aback, not in a bad way. Less than a year Sleepless. He’s in for a journey. I’m only half a year ahead of him and I’m still figuring it all out.

“You don’t see that very often anymore. A new case, I mean.”

He nods, smiling. “My own doctor was surprised, so was I. Had to get third, fourth, fifth opinions. Everyone keeps saying the Sleepless are a dying breed, but here I am bucking the trend.”

“Dying” is a bit of an overstatement. I’d describe us more like an increasingly rare find. There aren’t as many new incidences of Sleeplessness as there once were, which, depending who you ask, could be a good or bad thing.

“That’s why I moved,” he continues. “My old lease was up, and I’ve always thought this place was fascinating. All that history . . . and now, what’s come out from all that.”

“The community’s great too. Someone from the tenant’s association will catch you up on everything, and they also informally double as a counseling service for the newly Sleepless, if you ever need a hand.”

Behind us the elevator dings again. Two burly men in overalls emerge, struggling to extract a mattress from the cramped space.

“Oh, you still have a bed. Me too,” I add. “Most tenants don’t anymore. Waste of space, they say.”

“It’s mostly for the missus. She’s not like us.”

The last bit rankles me but I try to be generous. He is probably still learning how to talk about it, and the proper etiquette rules shift with every passing day.

“Well, I’m sure she’ll feel welcome here nonetheless.”

With their brisk pace, the movers reach us just as we get to our destination. The men take over in assisting their client, and I hand the cart off to them. I tell the old man to ring me at 9A if he ever needs anything, and he again thanks me profusely. Just then, his wife arrives on our floor. A woolen scarf hangs around her neck, an odd choice in this weather. She approaches us cautiously, her arms balancing a crate full of purple tropical orchids.

“Making friends already?” she asks. “Try not to talk the young man’s ear off, Ron.”

“He’s fine. Honestly, I’ve been doing most of the talking,” I reply with a chuckle. “Can I help you with that?”

My offer hangs in the air without acknowledgment. She warily surveys me from head to toe, unspoken questions written on her face. I try not to take offence. This is all new for her as much as it is for him, I can tell.

“We’ll manage. But thank you,” she says, punctuated with a cloying smile. Ron gives me a slight bow in gratitude, and, I’d like to think, solidarity. He then unburdens his wife of the crate, and she clings an arm around his shoulder while I’m left watching them march down the hall into their new home.

As I reenter my apartment, an unexpected heaviness comes upon me. I linger in my foyer and look toward the open door of my own bedroom, its king-size bed falling into disuse.

The futility of all that space, that remnant of a life I’d long left behind.

Excerpt from The Sleepless by Victor Manibo reprinted by permission. Copyright Erewhon Books.

The Sleepless by Victor Manibo will be released June 21, 2022; you can pre-order a copy here.