Caresaway is a novella that tells the story of scientist-turned-CEO Edward Crofte and the drug he’s responsible for. Author DJ Cockburn is no stranger to writing sci-fi stories, having won the 2014 James White Award and this title straddles that awkward in-between ground of short story and novel.
The title refers to an anti-depressant that takes all your cares away, with the nasty side effect that it stops some people caring at all, turning them into psychopaths. Not too far off Joss Whedon’s idea for Firefly
, which sees 10% of the population of a newly settled planet turn into murderous marauders. Rather than look at the world through the lens of crazed attacks, Caresaway
centres around businessmen and women who take the pill to get ahead, based on the idea and studies that show CEOs often have significant levels of psychopathic traits
Crofte designs the pill with honourable intentions — it is, after all, the best anti-depressant available. However, with limited testing, the significant side effect isn’t picked up by the pharmaceutical company that buys the patent.
Crofte suffers from depression and takes the pill to help himself, naively encouraged by his girlfriend. He is swayed by the effects, which help him rise the corporate ladder — the story starts with him ousting the previous CEO from his office — but also distancing himself from those he loves.
From his unique vantage point, he sees the ills that his drug have had on his personality and the world around him, so he swears off them. Without his psychopathic tendencies, however, the world he’s created doesn’t look as rosy, or as easy to manipulate.
“We’re in the middle of a global recession, Anthony. We need to make the most of our one blockbuster product.”
“So you said in the board meeting. Repeatedly. But does it bother you that the product may be why we’re in the middle of a global recession?”
The story jumps between two timelines — the present where Crofte is in control and the past where he’s struggling to find a buyer for his drug — and they effortlessly meet, with his problems catching up to him when his conscience is back in working order.
With fewer than 100 pages, Caresaway is a quick read, but it’s one that never fully grabbed me. Although the writing was clean, much of it seemed rushed and too much of the tale was told too briefly in order to go on to the next point. This brevity didn’t make me really care about what was happening or who it was happening to.
The drug’s immediate and huge impact on a person’s character made it hard to feel a connection with anyone, and from one chapter to the next it can seem like you’re reading about entirely different people who share the same names. Again, the short nature of the story makes it seem unbelievable and hard to feel empathy, yet at the same time it could easily have been edited down to a true short story without feeling like it lost anything.