Disclaimer: This is a review, and as such will contain opinions, spoilers and (often) general shit talking. (If you talk about what you don’t like about a work, you learn a lot. When you think through a work with the stakes presented to you by the creator, by the context of the work, you learn a lot. I review things, not because I love to dislike things, but because dislike contains rich and vital information for the process of experiencing something, but I cannot access it without interrogating it.) So, if you don’t want to have this thing spoiled for you, or don’t know how to behave when a person on the internet, that you don’t know, has opinions that don’t line up with yours, this review is not for you. It’s also not for the author/creator of the work. Please and thank you.

In the near future, humans choose life for a price. Injectable nanite technology is the lifeblood that flows through every individual wishing to experience the world through the lens of their own theme. While death from mortal wounds is still possible, life is made easier in a socially liberated society where automation and income equality allow passion pursuits to flourish over traditional work. Renewal stations are provided to every law-abiding citizen for weekly check-ins, which issue life-sustaining repairs in exchange for personal privacy. But what becomes of those who check out, of those who dare to resist immortality and risk being edited under the gaze of an identity-extracting government surveillance system?

This is an audiobook-first production, about a woman, Holly Winseed, who wakes up in a hospital room with her memory compromised.

A team of government agents waste no time in telling her that she’s a copy of herself, called a Provisional Replica, and that they need her to hunt down and kill her Original for murdering her husband.

The premise of the book is very interesting, and the world-building was really developed. As you delve deeper into the shiny world of the future you begin to see the truth of what it takes to make a world like that.

In the book, you learn with Holly as she revisits her life and everything she knew but with her theming turned off. The world as it truly is feels jarring and Holly almost becomes haunted by the fantasy she had willingly bought into.

Her disillusionment in life and disappointment in herself for going along with it is tangible, and the story raises a lot of questions about technology and ethics that apply to our personalised technology use today.

How much data are you giving to various entities and what are they doing with it? How far down the technology rabbit hole can you go without losing yourself? How much control are you willing mega corporations and governments to have over your person?

This kind of harkens back to The Minority Report, but takes a slightly different angle to it.

The funny thing is that the people who choose to live life without the theming imposed upon the world around them, smoothing out the cracks and creases of the real world, are called checkouts.

But in reality, it’s the people who fully immerse themselves in their theming — to a point where they believe they’re alone in a crowded space or simply don’t see someone committing an act of violence in the same room — who are the ones checking out of reality.

It’s a very plausible premise, something that could easily be true in a few decades. That’s what makes it so jarring.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes, I did. It’s a short listen and easy to follow, though it is a chilling read.

It’s fascinating to explore the world with the character, and it’s easy to imagine how technology like that could easily and quickly make people lose touch with reality. The novelty of of tactile elements in a digitally run world doesn’t seem too far removed from current reality.

The story doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and jarring feelings caused by the jarring difference of having the theming on and off, and what that means for the life Holly thought she had been living. This was especially poignant when Holly visited the murder scene, where she came face to face with her own willingness to ignore reality.

Julia Whelan’s narration is relatable and earnest, you feel like Holly is telling the story. Whelan sells the confusion and denial of the main character well, also making the anguish palatable as she tries to piece together a new identity for herself.

I did find the other audio elements (sound effects, ambience, music) to be more distracting than immersive, and I could have done without them. Whelan’s reading alone would be enough to carry the story and convey the moods and environments.

Rapid-fire round:

  • Did the book meet your expectations? I knew nothing going in and was pleasantly surprised.
  • Who was your favourite character in the book and why? Holly’s handler.
  • Who was your least favourite character in the book and why? I wanted to hate Holly’s Original, as she did, but was turned around in the end.
  • Did you relate to any of the characters? Yes, Holly once she started seeing the real world.
  • What themes or messages did you take away from the book? That we’re so willing to ignore the uncomfortable feelings that we voluntarily plug ourselves in the Matrix.
  • Was there anything in the book that surprised you or that you didn’t expect? The plot twist with Holly’s handler was nice though not wholly unexpected.
  • What did you think of the ending of the book? I like how it ended as well as how it was written.
  • What do you think the author’s intention was with the book? What message or theme do you think they were trying to convey? As I’ve said, this is like an exploration of a reality that’s already partially true.
  • Which part of the book did you find most memorable? The suspense that kept me listening was well written.
  • Did you find any aspects of the book confusing or unclear? N/A
  • Were there any moments in the book that made you emotional or had a strong impact on you? When Holly went to explore the “empty” nature trails where she’d gone camping with her husband will forever haunt me.

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