Fiction Reviews

Everything About You

(2018) Heather Child, Orbit, £12.99, hrdbk, 343pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22389-9


This is a near-future science fiction novel which offers us a world where jobs are increasingly scarce because robots/AIs are taking most of them, and where ‘smartfaces’ can act as digital assistants and games portals.

The protagonist, Freya, has a mundane job as a burger flipper and a layabout ex-boyfriend, Julian, who spends all his life locked in his room with a VR headset giving him access to an endless stream of immersive, ultra-realistic porn. Julian’s father (Thalis) has a senior position in the company enabling all the tech which is taking over Freya’s life and she intercepts a present meant for him – smartspecs with a highly intuitive AI interface containing the personality profile of her long-lost adoptive sister, Ruby.

The interface almost convinces Freya that Ruby must still be alive. She disappeared aged 17 and would be 24 – but her memories and attitudes appear to have been updated. This leads Freya to intensify her search for her missing sibling – long presumed dead – and that takes her down murky paths into VR worlds that she’d been doing her best to stay away from. She realises – what as readers we work out early – the assistance she gets from her new gadgets is not as benign as it first appears.

This isn’t quite a people + tech = all goes wrong story, but it does foreshadow a future where we have to work out what our role might be – and how we conduct our lives. It suggests technology will displace us (from jobs, locations and families), threaten our sense of purpose and tempt us into danger and addiction. But it also offers a future where life is easier.

But the tech is just the framework for the story – at its core is a classic missing persons case. Is Ruby still alive? Can Freya find her? Or will dark forces try and undermine her?

Everything About You is a first novel, and a good one at that, with a very British feel. It takes place when we’ve just de-Brexited (i.e.  gone scuttling back to the EU with our tails between our legs when our economy inevitably tanks) so it feels very immediate and relevant, but it is not a big-p ‘Political’ novel apart from a clear eco-message and if, it has weaknesses, it may be that it does not extrapolate the trends it draws on fully enough. But as it’s a crime thriller with a funky backdrop, that’s not a big issue. Put your virtual VR headset on and enjoy the ride.

Mark Bilsborough


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