The first novel from small press Fireside Fiction Company, Andrea Phillips’ Revision is a short book full of big ideas concerning personal responsibility and technology.   

Mira is a young woman in her early 20s working as a barista in Brooklyn. The story opens as she is dumped by her boyfriend Benji, the co-owner of Verity, a news aggregator startup. Feeling the need for some swift revenge, Mira revises Benji’s personal entry on Verity to say they are engaged. A few hours later, he comes back saying he changed his mind and…proposes. Mira is weirded out but dismisses the eerie feeling she has until Chandra, one of Verity’s co-founders, asks for her help destroying Verity.

She tells Mira that Verity is a news aggregator with a difference: using principles of quantum physics, the site can nudge events into happening as long as entries are revised at just the right moment, when a person or event are on the brink of coming into fruition. The possibilities are endless of course but in the hands of the wrong people…you get the idea. 

Can Mira trust Chandra? Can Mira trust Benji? Can Mira trust herself?

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My relationship with Revision was a rocky journey—we started as foes and ended up superclose friends. Why foes? Because of Mira and the kneejerk reaction I had to her character type.  

One of the most insufferable character types for me is the Holden Caulfield: the white-cis-straight-privileged character who rages about their “tough luck.” This is Mira in Revision: a self-centred “poor rich kid” who is going through her rebel phase against her superwealthy parents. She takes advantage of every single relationship she has, has no sense of personal responsibility, very little self-awareness and a frustrating aptitude for excusing grossly abusive behavior from men.     

It is a testament of Phillips’ writing skills that I have come to appreciate Mira as a character so much. It started with me realizing something incredibly important: that we rarely see a woman as this character type. My appreciation increased the more I read because the narrative never excuses Mira and in fact it constantly challenges Mira to a greater sense of self-awareness in the personal and societal arenas. In the threading between the personal and the collective is where Revision truly excels: this is a sci-fi novel of ideas, yes, but it’s a character-driven one through and through and a lot of its success relies on Mira’s character arc. This is all the more clear with how the science-fictional aspects play out—it would have been so easy for Revision to have a big, explodey plot, to have its very narrative constantly changed in big ways by the revisions done to Verity. Instead the author takes the road less traveled as Revision’s narrative unreliability is as subtle as it can be—we never truly know as we read whether the decisions Mira make are hers or have been nudged but either way, even the nudged decisions could have been hers to make in the first place. That’s the truly scary thing about Verity: that its success is firmly grounded on actual possibilities. The ending is astonishing in terms of character growth and in bringing all of these ideas together.

Add to this a cast of diverse characters and Mira’s engaging narrative voice and you have what I would call a freaking great novel.

In Book Smugglerish: 8 out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.