Factory 19 by Dennis Glover

‘Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your smartphones.’

Hobart, 2022. A city in recession, the future looks grim.  And then, one day, a rusty ship sails down the Derwent River to the site of the once famous, but now abandoned Gallery of Future Art, known as GoFA.

What on earth is going on?

Our narrator is Paul Richey:

‘I was the first confirmed case of something called ‘digital proximity anxiety’ – DPA – which the media inevitably dubbed ‘smartphone shock’.

Paul lived on Bruny Island in a low technology environment, to recover from a breakdown brought on by the relentless pressure of the 24/7 media cycle working for the unreasonable and demanding Prime Minister X. Eventually, he recovers well enough to move to Hobart. Paul tells us about the brave new world established by Dundas Faussett (D.F. as he is known), a world in which the future holds the past. D.F. founded the now abandoned GoFA and returns to Hobart to transform the site into a 1948 factory.

‘I contemplated my situation. I’d woken up in 2024 and was now about to go to bed in 1948.’

Yes, 1948. Specifically, March 1948, before the first commercial mainframe computer and the establishment of the RAND Corporation. Before the internet, before smartphones, before Amazon.  A world in which factories had production lines with people making things. Everyone has a job: making goods from 1948, using the materials available at the time. Measurements are imperial (again) and the men use Brylcreem.  My parents and grandparents would have been right at home.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Factory 19. The sort of world you used to live in.’

But the transition back to the past might not be as easy as D.F. envisages. Not everyone wants to give up 21st century technology, and the success of the factory, with its growing export markets, brings a different set of problems.

‘It was one thing to re-create the past, but another altogether to get it to work efficiently.’

This is a brilliant novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which Mr Glover recreates the past, makes us nostalgic for what seem to be happier days (even those of us who were not born until after 1948). He reminds us that while the present is not always superior to the past, some aspects are not so easily jettisoned.

How does it end? You will need to read it to find out.

‘Remembering is the most powerful political act of all.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith