Being the shallow sort, I was first attracted by the fabulous cover for this book, then intrigued by the premise which prompted me to request it from Netgalley.
In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…
This dystopian, YA science fiction near-future adventure explores a premise that I’ve recently come across in other books – Reaper by Janet Edwards and The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts – whereby people are spending more time in a virtual reality at the expense of our organic, real-time world. There are differences, of course, and Steinmetz has the dead uploaded into a virtual Heaven, which sounds a great idea.
However, the dead are still in charge of governing and over time they out-vote the living, who are increasingly losing out to the dead. Professionals are inevitably dead – but imagine being treated by a virtual doctor who has been dead so long, he has no sympathy about the fact you are in a lot of pain. This is the kind of problem the living are coping with. I like this world very much, which is well thought-out and poses some interesting questions.
Our protagonist is certainly very ticked off with his situation. His parents, who died six years ago in one of the virulent plagues sweeping across the planet, spend their time and energy in a fantasy world looking out for dragons, rather than keeping in touch with their children. Amichai, bright and inventive, is boxed into a miserable dead-end maintenance job so necessary to keep the Upterlife going, so relieves his frustration by breaking the rules and getting into mischief. However, he is treading a very narrow line – if he finally succeeds in really annoying the authorities, the dead can examine his ‘Shrive’ his last ‘save point’ where his thoughts and memories are uploaded and if they judge him to be a criminal, he would then die a ‘meat death’ where he won’t be uploaded once he dies. Unsurprisingly, the real-time population are really fed up, but reluctant to revolt given the way the odds are loaded against them.
I enjoyed this one. The plot twists and turns as Amichai flounders to find his place in this unhospitable world with a strong supporting cast. I think I could have loved it a tad more if I hadn’t found Amichai so flaky and annoying, but I’m aware this is a very personal response. My grouse is that when the situation is so dire, his impulsive risk-taking is plainly inappropriate and a lot of the narrative tension rides on it. However, if only he behaved with more responsibility, he wouldn’t have found himself in such a bad place – and given that his sister is pretty much reliant on him, I lost patience with his attitude. That said, the author makes a good case for the reasons why he is as he is – and he is thoroughly called to account for his behaviour and forced to reconsider his attitude, so there is a sense that he grows up during the book. If you enjoy dystopian science fiction reads with plenty of action, then I recommend this one.
While I obtained the arc of The Uploaded from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.