Faced with the end of his marriage, a mild-mannered man starts to question the omnipotent data-based System that regulates his society in this sci-fi novel.
Big Brother becomes Big PDA in author Davidson’s hands. In a future United Kingdom, the System is developed as a panacea to the world’s ills—an omnipotent online database, personal planner, and social network regulating all aspects of life. It monitors and communicates with its users via surgically implanted mobile units. The System’s artificial intelligence, with its prime directive to look after mankind’s security, is supposedly infallible, so nearly everyone gratefully follows its dictates, which have largely eradicated crime, poverty, and global overpopulation. (Never mind that dissenters who publicly question the System tend to disappear.) Advertising man Wallace Blair has especially close personal connections with the System; his grandfather had a part in its design, and his father currently holds a high maintenance position. Wallace is notified that his blissful marriage to Mary, a fanatical System believer, has been automatically moved to pre-divorce “Transition” status. Suddenly daring to doubt the System’s perfect judgment, he goes off the grid to delve into taboo family secrets—specifically, his grandfather’s mysterious breakdown and retreat from public life shortly after the System became active. At least, Wallace thinks he’s off the grid. Davidson seeds clues here and there that this indolent, apathetic, technology-blighted society is of a piece with the one depicted in Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 dystopian satire Brave New World, which is looking less like satire with every passing year. Furthermore, he avoids the temptation to dazzle readers with florid descriptions of sci-fi marvels and jargon. Wisely, he keeps the System thoroughly offstage and mysterious—no towering computer-mainframe headquarters, no mecha battle-troops à la The Terminator (1984)—which makes the invisible, paranoid AI even more disquieting and the society which enabled it, equally so. A good deal of the plotline, in fact, addresses the relationships between three generations of Blair men. Plodder Wallace never develops into much of a rebel, any more than Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Winston Smith did, which goes much against the grain of the blockbuster mentality that typifies novels such as The Hunger Games (2008). However, it’s appropriate to the elegiac, downbeat tone.
A staid, melancholy, cautionary sci-fi tale with an Orwellian, fablelike quality.