If you never had to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
This is the central question at the core of Victor Manibo’s novel The Sleepless. In this sci-fi thriller, a minority of people around the world have a condition known as “Sleeplessness,” which mysteriously rids their body of the need to go to sleep. The Sleepless use the extra time as many people would if they just had a couple more hours: to take up hobbies, to work another job for more money, to connect with others. Sleeplessness is an answer to the constraints that working, school, and other commitments place on us. It’s a dream, no?
Despite all the time afforded to him as someone with Sleeplessness, journalist Jamie Vega struggles. He devotes himself tirelessly to his job at a renowned news company. But when he finds his boss dead one day in the office, his world takes a stranger turn. The death is ruled a suicide; Jamie heavily suspects otherwise. His journey into figuring out the truth takes him on a road of revelations about himself, his condition, and the forces of the world that plot and manipulate from behind the curtain.
The Sleepless presents us with a deeply realized world that hypothesizes on the life of those who don’t dream. Its worldbuilding is nuanced, creative, and reflective. As readers, we get a palpable sense of the fear and ostracization that the Sleepless faced in the years prior to the start of the novel, when it was a mysterious pandemic that came upon the world. From there, Manibo transports us to the present, where many Sleepless individuals take up the opportunity to work more hours and get richer. Corporations, seeing the possibility of exploiting their Sleepless employees, respond by hiring them in droves — bringing up the story’s fervent question of who actually owes our time, as laborers under capitalism.
Jamie, despite having all the time he could wish for in this world where hustle culture has reached its extreme, still suffers from the remnant memories of his past. With Sleeplessness comes his fulfilled wish to never be plagued by nightmares again, but it also comes with the consequence of always being “on” — Jamie’s thoughts race without end, and his past traumas never stop chasing after him. Between Jamie and the community of others who are Sleepless, I truly felt like I understood what our world could be like if something so integral to our society’s functioning was suddenly uprooted from us.
Alongside the world created, The Sleepless finds its stride as a slow-burn mystery. Once the potential murder of Jamie’s boss comes into play, he descends into a state of paranoia and suspicion, and sets his convictions on figuring out the deeper truths at play, as any good journalist does.
The story is accessible in the ways Jamie is intensely relatable. From his perspective, it truly feels like we’re discovering every unfolding layer of the mystery with him. His questions and frustrations at the world are ours, his discoveries and revelations are shared with us. Of course, what sets Jamie apart from readers — and what allows him to go the ends of the world to focus on his obsession with finding answers — is his condition. As we work, many of us feel like our own sense of time has been taken from us. When we get off for the day, we’re too exhausted to pursue anything outside the trappings of what we do to pay the bills. Jamie and his condition offer a window into the possibility of what it’s like to pursue what we want to, if we just had the time. But would being Sleepless really be the best outcome for us?
Upon turning to the last page, all I could think about is how The Sleepless will get more and more relevant as time goes on. As people find new ways to optimize their time, through technology or otherwise, The Sleepless asks us: who has true ownership of how we go about the world? Where does our energy, our labor, our time go towards in the end? And how we do we break out of the cycles we get stuck in? The novel doesn’t propose exact answers, but it does what all good speculative fiction does: it lets us peer into an alternative sense of living, one where we can dream endlessly in.