Ctrl+S by Andy Briggs

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Ctrl+S by Andy Briggs

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Alex Mitchell
Reviewed by Alex Mitchell
Summary: Ready Player One meets Neuromancer in this action-packed post-Cyberpunk adventure set in a brilliantly realised world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 416 Date: July 2019
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-1409184645

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In the near future, life's pretty good. Climate change has been brought under control, the bee population has been brought back from near-extinction, and 3D printing has made things cheaper and quicker than ever before. But the biggest triumph has got to be SPACE, a simulated world that has the ability to mimic emotions as well as images. But, as with every technology, there is the potential for it to be abused. Every day, people are being kidnapped, plugged into SPACE and have their emotions and feelings harvested for the richest and sickest members of society. And now Theo's mum has gone missing. As he follows the trail left by her, he uncovers a vast conspiracy that would use any means necessary to stop him from finding out where his mum has gone...

Andy Briggs, for whom this is his first novel for adults, has previously worked as both a screen writer and graphic novelist, and it certainly shows. The writing style is very cinematic and action-packed, making it much easier to visualise it in your head as you read along.

The book initially focuses on Theo Wilson, your typical 20-year-old university dropout who works in the hell that is the fast food industry while using SPACE as a form of escapism. He lives with his mother Ella, who initially appears to be a deadbeat alcoholic, although as the story progresses we start to see her more hidden depths. While Theo is the initial viewpoint character for most of the start of the story, it also focuses on some of his friends. Clemmie, a rather hotheaded university student and daughter of a vCrimes detective, who also fills the role of Theo’s love interest. There is also Milton, a SPACE celebrity who runs a successful game reviewing channel under the handle Kaiju Killer, which contrasts his outwardly sensible and introverted personality. There is also Baxter, a young man forced into doing community service after being caught selling illegal SPACE mods. Each of these three are dragged into the mystery as Theo searches for his mother.

Where the book shines through the most, however, is the setting. In terms of the real world, 3D printing technology has brought prices down considerably, global warming has been stopped in its tracks, and the bee population has managed to come back from the brink of extinction. This is considerably more optimistic than a lot of other near-future science fiction novels, which is a welcome break. The virtual world has grown considerably with the invention of SPACE, a type of VR internet that not only mimics the real world (and more) but also the emotions that come with it. Humans are not the only species to use SPACE, with beings known as Slifs (short for synthetic life forms) residing there as well, born from the collective emotions of the users of SPACE. However, wherever there is new technology, there are those looking to abuse it. The plot focuses on people being kidnapped, and having their emotions harvested, not only joy and pleasure but also pain and fear (for those sadistic), with wealthy patrons being able to fulfil even their most illegal and immoral of fantasies. There are also the Children of Ellul, a militant anti-SPACE protest group who want to bring an end to the virtual world, which they see as having grown too powerful. It’s an amazingly well-thought out world and adds a lot of weight to the story.

Overall, this is a thrilling, action-packed story of how the virtual world might grow, and how people might end up abusing it.

Similar books by other authors:
Neuromancer by William Gibson – the story that kick-started the whole genre.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – a story set in a similar world with a similar sort of premise.

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