The Cambridge Geek

Ctrl S - Andy Briggs

More science fiction this week, this time a story about immersive VR, and an attempt to examine some of the more unpleasant outcomes that might occur if it's misused.

Theo is something of a dropout, who spends most of his free time indulging in SPACE, the future version of the internet, which is accessed through complex integration rigs. These make the experience more real by simulating emotions directly in the brain. Excitement, anger, pain, all can be induced by the right signals, though this does have a slight problem.

Taking all of this input straight into the nervous system tends to make the brain overclock somewhat, meaning that the system has to be regulated. People are mandated a maximum three hours a day time in SPACE, and anything above that can potentially cause brain damage or eventually death.

But as long as you stick to the rules, no problem right? Correct, except that after one particularly heavy session, Theo gets a phone call intended for his mother, threatening his life if she doesn't hand over "something" to a criminal enterprise. Given that his mother hasn't got in touch with him to warn him about this, he rather suspects she's been captured and killed and decides to investigate it himself.

And so begins a YA-ish quest through both the virtual and real worlds, with Theo and his group of friends teaming up with both a group of anti-SPACE activists and the artificial life that has slowly evolved within SPACE.

This is theoretically fairly high concept, with elements of the singularity, and the ethics of "fake" reality, looking at whether or not it's right to indulge in vicarious thrills based on real experiences, but it never really explores these properly. Instead, it's a pretty fluffy thriller, bouncing back and forth between reality and VR, in a way that might make a cool film (especially if you did a lot of work on the aesthetic), but mostly gets confusing in the book.

The climax in particular, in which the team split up between the two modes, didn't show significant separation. It has some nice grittiness in what people will actually do for power and how the imbalance always affects those lower down in the power structure, but in general it spoilt this by eventually turning our heroes into super powered beasts themselves.

Could have had a lot to say, but instead gave us relatively shallow action.

Score 2

Tagged: Book Science fiction Techno-thriller Novel Print