A new novel that probes the relationship between perception and reality.
First-person narrator Conrad works in Augmented Reality (think Google Glass). He decides to visit Michel, a close childhood friend from whom he has drifted apart. Michel, always obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios, has acquired a partner, Hanna, and a boat the pair are refurbishing as an ark against rising sea levels. Conrad soon founds a startup business with genius coder Ralf, whose software enables Conrad, via the glasses, to see what isn’t there—but also not see what is. Michel, meanwhile, has written a bestselling post-apocalyptic fantasy and parlayed it into a movie deal, bringing him once again in proximity to Conrad. It turns out that the movie mogul, Vaux, himself only partially sighted, is thrilled with Conrad’s technology and “imagines dreams woven through the real, and all the dreamers dreaming.” Vaux makes a deal with Conrad’s company. The glasses, meanwhile, have morphed through contact lenses into implants all but independent of hardware, blurring further and further the boundary between that which is perceived and objective reality. The narrative blurs and blends too, especially in the past, where we learn of Conrad’s complicated relationships. His father helped blinded veterans by designing a jacket studded with sensors that restore some level of sight; his mother struggled with mental illness and was, apparently, murdered. Michel’s father, a soldier, was beheaded on camera. Vaux turns out to have been one of the veterans treated by Conrad’s father. But in all this toying with reality’s demarcation, British author Ings (Dead Water, 2011, etc.) succeeds only in producing solipsistic and rather sociopathic characters who never evoke the reader’s sympathy.
A novel that’s easy to admire but almost reptilian in its lack of warmth.