“I am the boy running around trying to tell the world that the sky is falling. And you know what? It’s not an acorn this time. The sky really is falling in.”
Peter Vincent’s father is a world-renowned scientist, the man responsible for engineering a species of mechanical bees to replace the dwindling originals. It’s an act that’s a triumph of technology over nature, and a similar attitude is pervasive throughout Peter’s world, a world where technology is the new evolution. Survival of the fittest is the old way of thinking. These days, organisms aren’t given the opportunity to evolve and adapt. Technology has seen to that. That’s why, rather than looking for ways to encourage the organic honeybee to thrive, the bee slate was simply wiped clean.
The same is true for humans. In the first in this series, 0.4 (see my review), teenager Kyle Straker watched from afar as humanity underwent an upgrade, becoming the hive-minded, linked-up beings that populate this book, which is set a millennium later. Those who skipped out on the update effectively became invisible to these new beings–incompatible file versions, perhaps. And yet, there persists a movement of people inspired by Straker’s anti-upgrade outlook who continue to attempt to live in the “old” ways. Needless to say, they’re not looked upon fondly by someone of Peter’s father’s ilk.
When Strakerite Alpha contacts Peter to warn him of a series of disappearances, Peter finds himself drawn into a new way of thinking. Quite literally, for critical thinking and analysis isn’t of particular importance in a world where information is simply fed into one’s brain through the Link. Peter, who is already beginning to question the status quo, becomes increasingly critical of the world he lives in when he learns that humanity is facing another major upgrade.
Though 1.4 is set a thousand or so years from now, its themes are today’s. Much is made of media monopoly, of the fact that the masses not only receive their information from a strictly limited number of sources, but also that they only receive that information those media providers wish to relay. ”I’ve started to doubt the wisdom of drawing one’s opinions from the same data well every day,” says Peter at one point. At another, he reflects that it’s not just the informational content that’s a problem. It’s that people trust it, and are unable to think critically about it.
“The process of reading a book takes a while to get used to,” he muses. “It’s so slow and laborious. But once you get into it, once you forget the way you’re reading and concentrate on what you’re reading, it becomes a really unique experience. You have to work to draw meaning from it rather than having a meaning given to you, which is the only way we receive information these days.”
The reliance on these sources as a form of memory is also a compelling issue, and one that those who’ve stopped bothering to memorise telephone numbers or addresses or dates will find familiar. “We have stopped remembering things. We trust the Link to remember them for us.” It’s the present-day version of the problem raised in Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids, where specialisation has meant that people need others in order to be able to survive. There’s a huge degree of trust involved, and even more so when it’s memory that we’re talking about; there are certainly Orwellian overtones here.
There’s also the idea of depersonalisation and alienation, which is widely present in dystopian fiction–of which this is a beautiful example–and which is so very relevant to us today. It’s the making of artificial, largely meaningless social connections via electronic media and the pretence that they’re a suitable substitute for actual, real-world relationships. It’s the idea of being so overrun and over-scheduled that taking a backseat to one’s life is the easiest way to cope.
“We need to feel like we belong. The Link provides us with all the connections we need. So much so that we pretty much let it run our lives for us. It’s how we make sense of the world. So we look for patterns and linkages, because without them the world is a senseless blur.”
I did find that the epistolary format created a certain distance between the narrator and reader, and one that’s largely “telling”. There is a certain recursion of plot (although this is more than likely intended), and some elements, such as Alpha’s instant affinity for Peter, felt a little hasty. But overall, 1.4 is a compelling and thought-provoking addition to the dystopian genre.
Rating: (and leaning towards a 4) (very good)
With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont Australia for the review copy
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Other books by Mike Lancaster: