A book by Adam Roberts is always worth reading – see my reviews of The Real-Town Murders and Yellow Blue Tibia. Being the shallow sort, first the cover snagged my attention, then when I saw the author I immediately requested it.
TRUNCATED BLURB: The This is the new social media platform everyone is talking about. Allow it to be injected into the roof of your mouth and it will grow into your brain, allow you to connect with others without even picking up your phone. Its followers are growing. Its detractors say it is a cult. But for one journalist, hired to do a puff-piece interview with their CEO, it will change the world forever.
Adan just wants to stay at home with his smart-companion Elegy – phone, friend, confidante, sex toy. But when his mother flees to Europe and joins a cult, leaving him penniless, he has to enlist in the army – move that changes his life forever…
REVIEW: This is another offering with a rather chatty blurb that you’d do well to avoid as it gives away far too much of the story. Although it also manages to be very misleading, because it concentrates on the plot, rather than the narrative engine of the book which isn’t the storyline.
Most novels provide stories that take their readers away to other places, peopled by sympathetic characters with whom we can identify. Sometimes it provides pure escape and entertainment, other times the story provides a warning message, or commentary on current inequalities – such as George Orwell’s 1984. However, there are novels who are powered by an idea, or theory and the story is tailored to support that notion – the other example that immediately springs to my mind is Jo Walton’s masterly and very enjoyable Thessaly trilogy, which explores Plato’s theory of an ideal society as proposed in his book, Republic – see my review of The Just City. And this book is another one that falls into that category – this time looking at Hegel’s philosophy in amongst other ideas.
That might sound dry and unappealing – and in less able hands that might be the case. But Roberts is a remarkable writer who deserves to be far better known for his talent and versatility. Few others could get away with flourishes like the opening passage at the start of the book, which charts the various incarnations of a single person, circling around the phrase, In the Bardo subject and object are the same thing… While the characters and the storylines matter and certainly had me turning the pages to see what would happen next, they also support or challenge the ideas that Roberts wants to explore. And my mention of 1984 wasn’t merely incidental – there is also a homage to the book in amongst the closing chapters that is both entertaining and slightly horrifying.
The notion of social media is thoroughly examined – what does it mean to be part of world-wide group such as Twitter. And what would happen if those who spend their time locked onto their phones tweeting were offered the opportunity to become part of a new cult craze called The This. Better still, to belong you don’t even need a phone – a small implant is inserted in the roof of your mouth and you’re good to go. You can be part of the hive mind of The This 24/7 – and never alone, again. Roberts explores the idea of loneliness and isolation versus the lure of belonging – although I don’t wholly agree with his premise or his conclusions, given he clearly has very fixed ideas about the impact of social media. But that doesn’t stop this book being a fascinating read that still has me mulling over the ideas it tosses out as the story rackets along at a gripping pace. Very highly recommended for those who enjoy their science fiction laced with philosophical ideas along with a very readable story. While I obtained an arc of The This from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.