McKenna’s (My Big Fake Irish Life, 2011) first foray into science fiction mixes romance with techno-thriller in a dystopian world where “thinking for yourself caused death.”
McKenna develops her central conceit uncomfortably well by extrapolating today’s world into 2095, when computers manage humanity via barcodes embedded in their wrists. The computers create a society we often wish for, wherein everyone is employed at a job perfectly suited to their abilities and temperament, and no one is sick or hungry (with a lifespan over 100 years and youth lasting into middle age); where parents custom-design their children, relationships are ideally balanced and war and environmental disaster are unknown. But the cost of this painless life is loss of passion and freedom. Fortunately, groups of individualists have withdrawn to live the old-fashioned way with all its sufferings. These folks, along with an isolated group of psychics and sages, covertly work against the governing computers to stop them from reducing humanity to a slave race and stealing our physiology in order to create a super-race of computer-humans. The opposing forces are destined to battle in an uprising predicted by the sages since 1971. One preordained person from each culture—beautiful Britannia from the ideal society, rugged John from the primitive outcasts and innocent but gifted Kendall from the psychic students—must combine their special talents in a preemptive strike to trigger Armageddon, although none of the sages can foresee who wins. McKenna tells her story in alternating voices, weaving them together from a startling prologue to a predictable ending in a calm and steady voice of her own that suggests the machine world she envisions. This voice beautifully portrays the chilling future but flattens out characters and action into clichés. The book is further weakened by amateurish production, including repeat typos, incorrect grammar and usage and simple formatting bloopers. Nevertheless, the book is a compelling story that pulls the reader along while feeling like a screenplay disguised as a novel. It begs for richer treatment, which perhaps McKenna will tackle in a sequel.
Despite some flaws, McKenna delivers a fascinating look into a chilling future firmly rooted in our present.