I’ll start my review by saying this book is perfect for the “Book About Technology” category for the 52 book reading challenge. (#45) It’s not only about technology, as technological achievement is the driving force of the plot, but it’s told using technological methods. Meaning the entire book is told through text messages, emails, transcripts, blog entries and newspaper articles. It’s not so much a linear narrative as it is a piecemeal of evidence of something transpiring. The reader has to piece together these into the cohesive narrative. It feels a bit like doing a research project, to be honest. Hold on, let’s back up before you have to do the same thing with my review.
Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, two best friends from college, have only one thing in common. They are immersed in the Silicon valley tech world. Adhi is an introverted genius who would prefer to be left alone so he can create something amazing. He’s always felt his creative potential stifled, whether it be in a university setting or in the corporate setting at Google. Ben is an out of control arrogant entrepreneurial douche canoe incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. Oops… did I type that out loud? Anyway, Ben is vile and Adhi deserves better friends. We glean from the snippets of communication that Adhi creates a quantum computer (not without the help of stolen Google technology) that can communicate with its future self. Ben sees dollar signs and convinces Adhi to go into a startup with him so that they can produce and market the technology for public use so that everyone can see the future. Things begin to go south in several different ways, and the whole thing culminates in a dramatic and quite shocking conclusion.
“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.”
– Christian Lous Lange
For the story, I wound up liking the format. Firstly, this book read incredibly quickly for its length, as there wasn’t really all that much text on each page. Going into it, I thought character development would suffer because of the format, but I really don’t think it did. It’s to Frey’s credit, because it takes some serious skill to make that kind of thing work. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really like the characters. I positively detested Ben, if you hadn’t already gleaned that. I think we were supposed to hate him, which then gives me a certain theory about the end that I really shouldn’t go into, because it would be a huge spoiler. Ok, I’m adding that spoiler to my goodreads review, so if you want to know my thoughts on the end, click here and enter at your own risk if you haven’t read this book.
There’s some personal soap-style drama in this. A is friends with B and B is married to C but B is sleeping with D and A is in love with C and C just wants to do her damn job. And that all just got even more confusing than the quantum physics. As for the quantum physics and the technology aspects, I can’t really wrap my head around any of it without it exploding. Truly, I can’t get past the logic aspect of communicating with the future. I think Frey did a passable job of explaining things considering the format of the book. Conveniently, he was able to redact certain portions of transcripts and public records for containing sensitive data that couldn’t be disseminated to the public. This saved him the long drawn out tech-y jargon that usually accompanies technology-driven science fiction. This didn’t bother me. Someone who loves hard sci-fi with intricate scientific detail might call it lazy. I don’t have that hangup, because I wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Some sections of this narrative were stronger than others. For instance, I didn’t feel like the transcripts from the congressional hearings felt very authentic. It’s where Ben sounded the most juvenile, and they just didn’t read like congressional hearings to me. My favorite portions, which weren’t very frequent, were the Tumblr blog posts from Adhi as his alter-ego, Dr. Dark. This is where we were introduced to the more philosophical aspect. There were some profound discussions of ethics and morality using classic science fiction like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and Buffy. These were more in my wheelhouse than the tech lingo. An added bonus for these posts is that they helped us more intimately understand Adhi as a character. Reading someone’s secret Tumblr posts is like reading their diary, a gateway into their innermost thoughts.
Overall, this is an enjoyable read. It’s quick and not too heavy on the jargon, so it’s appropriate for casual, sporadic science fiction readers. I give it 3 stars.
Published Feb 9 2021 by Del Rey Books. ISBN 0593158210. Hardover, 352 pages.