When a young iconoclast unleashes a destructive algorithm, a group of vagabonds in Bristol struggles to come to terms with the world that follows.
You never know quite what you’re going to get with journalist Maughan’s thoughtful dystopian debut novel, which offers a blush of cyberpunk, a shakerful of Neal Stephenson, and a dash of Cory Doctorow’s speculative fiction. The book’s time frame is split in half, alternating by chapters. In “Before,” our main protagonist is hacker-turned-activist Rushdi Manaan, who's built an alternative community in Bristol, England, called the Croft, completely cut off from the internet and outside communication—mostly artists doing their thing. He’s gone to New York to visit his boyfriend, Scott, but he’s also working on an algorithm that could change the world, for better or worse. In “After,” the Croft is barely holding together after a group of cyberterrorists unleashes what they call a “reboot,” completely destroying every network, every cellular device, and essentially switching off the internet itself. The occupants of the Croft are a pretty ragtag group by this point, connected to the past only by artist Anika, who bridges the gap between stories. Elsewhere are Grids, who runs the black market, Tyrone, who trades in old music cassettes, and Mary, who sees ghosts through her glasses, although she’s unable to communicate with them. As a backlash against the connected world and an indictment of internet culture, it’s a terrifying scenario rife with terrorist attacks and a movement whose mantra reads in part, “With zero bandwidth opportunity is our only weapon.” The story is a bit fractured in structure, but the characters are compelling, and it’s worth reaching the end just to find out how Maughan wraps up this Byzantine puzzle box.
An original and engaging work of kitchen-sink dystopia.