PRESAGE by Betsy Cheung


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Cheung’s debut novel is packed with thrilling ideas about near-future technology.

When cub reporter Sophie wakes for her first day of work, she’s helped by her digital I-ssistant, and she enjoys a relaxing holographic recreation of a lagoon while interacting with a representation of her schedule projected in midair—and that’s only the first page. Other near-future pops up, from new types of transportation to new social technologies, including the Alpha Scores for rating charity and community service. The first half of the novel revolves around a discussion of the role of the market and the individual in society, as presented in a debate between digitally reproduced Karl Marx (rather, three versions of Marx) and the economist Adam Smith. However, while these high-concept ideas and philosophical debates are entertaining, Cheung doesn’t back up the ideas with clearly defined characters for the reader to identify with. Yet there are plenty of players: In addition to Sophie and her I-ssistant personality, Brad, there are also her adoptive parents, Lola and Otto; her biological mother, Xin Sun Er, and grandmother; her fiancé, Mitch; his twin brother, Sam; her colleagues, Karly and Tristan; the three Marx personalities and the Adam Smith construct; her boss and her boss’ many friends; etc. The vast array of ideas may be thrilling, but the large cast of characters can be confusing. On top of that, the narrator sometimes summarizes the situation with a bird’s-eye view, which doesn’t foster emotional identification with the characters, as in one instance when the reader is simply told: “People were shaken….But life went on, and autumn turned into winter.” Lastly, the book loses some excitement due to its structure and slow pacing; in fact, the title object—the virtual game “Presage”—first appears on page 233, finally kicking into gear a thriller plot involving intelligence agencies’ attempt to sabotage the game.

Interesting ideas overburdened by flat characters and subplots.

Pub Date: June 8th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1477479988
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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