Double the Hustle: A Review of The Sleepless by Victor Manibo
The Sleepless, Victor Manibo. Erewhon, August 2022.
Science fiction is never about the future, in the same way history is rarely about the past: they’re both parable formats for examining or commenting on the present.A. A. Gill
This sentiment of Gill’s rings true in Victor Manibo’s debut, The Sleepless. Leaning into the continuing trend of pandemic fiction of recent years, this Earth in the 2040s has weathered another civilization-disrupting virus, known as Sleepless. A quarter of the world’s population loses the ability to sleep, but without any serious health issues. The opportunities for the Sleepless seem endless: after all, what would you do with an extra eight whole hours? This leads to discrimination and other fear-mongering: although the story is set in the near future, this is still humanity. If the Sleepless can achieve more than someone without the condition, what will stop them from attaining every important role or position of power? What do they get up to when the rest of the populace sleeps? Capitalism partially solves this by instituting a “fourth” shift, but as one can imagine there have to be more carrots than “only” work.
The novel is narrated by journalist Jamie Vega. After finding his boss dead of an apparent suicide, Vega realizes that his memory has developed gaps over the last few months, leaving him without a convincing alibi in the police investigation. Jamie must fill those gaps while navigating corporate politics and illegal biohackers.
It’s a deft and twisting sleuth narrative that incorporates several other genres in a refreshing science fiction setting, drawing on cyberpunk and noir. Manibo straddles these tropes well, and even navigates out of them when his characters fall into overplayed roles or situations. He revels in the sandbox that The Sleepless provides, but it doesn’t distract him from the story’s purposes—an anti-capitalism macro issue, with a self-acceptance micro issue.
The most interesting thematic piece of The Sleepless is how Manibo dives head first into the outcome of no-sleep + more time = double the hustle. While the work retains a leftist bent signaled by Jamie’s observations, it is also enhanced by the fantastic and nightmarish alt-world created by the Sleepless. The novel brings to mind the latest wave of sci-fi shows that explore exactly how far capital, and by extension Big Tech, is willing to go, such as Severance or Made for Love. The Sleepless can simply always work, forgoing nocturnal rhythms entirely; brightly-lit “sundomes” spring up to better allow them to hustle around the clock, and there’s even an entire new city that literally never sleeps. Many Sleepless maintain multiple jobs at the same time, and work a “fourth shift” instead of resting. An entire business sector has formed around facilitating this insomniac workforce.
It all spins up as a new circle of life for capital. The Sleepless do not use their extra time for leisure, they use it for work. New jobs are still being created, bringing to mind Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, while new automatons are taking over some service jobs (i.e. wait & bar staff).
Jamie is fully aware of the hustle culture that exists among the Sleepless; capital obviously noticed it immediately. The Sleepless can produce double the output of a normal person, which makes them the ideal employee—to the detriment of the unafflicted majority. How can someone vie for a promotion with someone who can quite literally work around the clock?
Manibo has created an uncomfortable mirror. The novel is set more than twenty years in the future, yet our current ongoing disasters are still the same. Capitalism is grinding us away. Climate change is rupturing civilization. Jamie’s problems reveal the truth of our own circumstances: he is consistently foiled by regular people not caring enough to take a stand on issues that matter. It is the same world, just with a new coat of paint.
The Sleepless are given so much of a resource that we all crave, but cannot create: time. Yet, as Jamie and the reader alongside him find out, more time is not the easy answer we are looking for. Manibo suggests that it is not about having more time, it is taking advantage of the time we have. And what do we do with this time? Jamie sees that we need to invest it in others, not simply our own pursuits or self-betterment.
Jamie has very few friends by the end of the book: because of complications of the plot he drifts away from a lover, and isolates himself from his family. We barely even see him engage with his coworkers. Sleepless robbed him of those connections. It gave him more time to pursue new skills and interests, but left him with fewer relations. The novel illustrates the severe flaws of hustle and grind culture, highlighting the ways that material ambition can’t replace good friends and good conversation.
Manibo is here not only to entertain in his debut novel, but to provide a reflection and insight into what matters amid crushing capitalism.
Alexander Pyles is a writer, editor, and reviewer based in the Chicago area. Originally from Virginia Beach, he is now a transplant in the Midwest. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. His fiction has appeared in Radix Media, Trembling with Fear, Black Hare Press, and other venues. His nonfiction has appeared in the Chicago Review of Books, Dark Matter Magazine, Three Crows Magazine, Horror Tree, and Analog Science Fiction & Science Fact Magazine. When not writing or reading, he is attempting to cook, garden, or play video games when his two kiddos allow it. You can find him on Twitter.
This review was commissioned from an emailed pitch from ARB’s monthly calls for review. The author and editors were acquainted through previous ARB work. It was edited by Jake Casella Brookins and copyedited by Alex Skopic. ARB arranged a review copy from the publisher.