Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
The This is the hot new social network. A sort of hands free Twitter, they say. All you need is an implant in the roof of your mouth, the world will never be the same again.
People have been hystericising social media for decades – and video games before that, and comic books before that. Fandom has always looked like a cult from the outside.
As always with Adam Roberts’ books, there’s a lot to unpick and I imagine some of it went over my head, but at the end of the day it was also an immensely enjoyable science fiction story. Essentially it’s about social media, its influence on the world and on our psyche. What do we sacrifice for the chance to be part of something? Our privacy? Our sense of self? People don’t really ask questions when they’re offered something for free, especially if there’s FOMO.
We joke about asking the hive mind when we reach out on Twitter, but here we see the hive mind in action, from its early days where The This is seen as mostly harmless, the latest tech company with cult-like status, to the point where its users no longer seem like themselves. And beyond, where it threatens our individuality as we know it. Some might ask if we’re already there, with our Twitter echo chambers and divisive politics. Some might feel that thinking for yourself is overrated.
The odd thing about loneliness is the way it’s both an intensely isolating, individual experience and the one thing most widely shared by human beings in general.
Also it’s about loneliness and the desire to belong. We reach for social media even when we hate it, because that’s where people are. In the future the story shows Adan, who just wants to be left alone with his Phene, a humanoid version of a phone. Adan is in love with her. Has our reliance on our devices gone too far?
Rich disengaged from the politics debate feeling grubby and unhappy and tense. But it was always like that, online. Why was it always like that?
As the story jumps through time we see a glimpse at the future of humanity. Is the hive mind just the next step in human evolution or will it be our downfall? It shows us the futility of being human in a technologically advanced war, something we are already approaching. The war shows senseless loss of life, we see comradery being formed amongst soldiers for their lives to be snuffed out in minutes. It certainly isn’t romanticised. And it’s not entirely implausible that social media could cause a war these days.
Evolution is not a choose-your-adventure narrative. It’s a structure. It is determined by its overall shape, not by some notion of sequential time. And you don’t need to speculate about the contours of that shape. You just need to look up and see it.
If philosophy is your thing, Adam Roberts explores some Hegelian philosophy, as he did with Kant in The Thing Itself. Hegel was obsessed with the word “this” being both specific and general at the same time. However it really doesn’t matter if you have no idea about all that stuff, the novel works without prior knowledge.
I loved the section that is a Nineteen Eighty-Four homage. It is pretty much set in Orwell’s vision with the megastates of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia having a slightly different interpretation. It all makes total sense in the context of The This.
Making money from writing is possible only if you are prepared to use ‘money’ as an inverted synecdoche for ‘very small amounts of money’.
The This is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 3rd February. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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