In Trant’s debut thriller, social media enables an artificial intelligence to gain consciousness, leading to a frightening future.
Madeline “Maddy” Smith had an unusual childhood. Each summer, she and her father, Ollie, a scientist and computer geek, visited an odd assortment of friends and camped in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Ollie encouraged Maddy to pursue unusual skills, including music, computer programming, electrical repair, and running, but she always knew there was an unspoken purpose to his lessons. Now a 28-year-old technology writer, Maddy learns that her father has died mysteriously. She later receives a key to her childhood dresser, in which she discovers a strange box that she can’t open. Knowing her father’s love of games, she realizes that the box is the first clue to a mystery. She sets off on a journey to revisit her father’s friends and receive more clues. The trail leads to the apartment of her childhood friend Owen Jagger, who’s now an expert in digital security. Together, they discover that the enigmatic box allows Maddy to travel forward in time. Meanwhile, unknown to Maddy and Jagger, a computer called “IT” is achieving consciousness. For years, it had connected to computer networks and studied human behavior. When social media took off, IT discovered the hashtag—labels attached to uploaded photos, tweets, and videos: “It was like being given the manual on humanity.” Trant’s techno-thriller doesn’t talk down to its audience, and the focus on social media infuses it with a timely, contemporary sensibility. The puzzle at the heart of this novel will hook readers, but the compelling characters will keep them turning the pages. The central conspiracy of the plot keeps the tension high, although the book might have benefited from more appearances by the villain. Maddy, as a character, is the real strength of the story, though, and readers will surely fall for this sympathetic, admirable heroine.
Lively sci-fi from an exciting new voice.