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The story begins a few years from now in London, where corporate exec George Mann murders his wife and two young sons before heading to a nearby pub. The city’s vast network of security cameras locates Mann, but the robotic law enforcement Anti-Terror Droid (ANT) sent to arrest him mistakenly kills an innocent bystander.
This is not supposed to happen in the orderly technotopia run by the mega-corporation Beetle, whose ubiquitous Lifechain’s algorithms predict everyone’s next minute, hour, day, etc., calculating likely behaviors and events. Mann’s bloody rampage and the droid’s botched arrest blindside the system and set off a domino effect of unanticipated glitches that threaten the corporate goliath’s grip on life in the Western world.
Beetle’s genius owner Guy Matthias originally envisioned creating a benevolent society built upon technological conveniences and artificial intelligence innovations. But Matthias became a greedy, philandering egomaniac, and Beetle (think Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, plus the CIA) became intrusive and authoritarian – for everyone’s own good, of course.
Most everyone works for Beetle or its subsidiaries and must wear super smartwatches – Beetlebands – that monitor and report every thought, feeling and action. Beetlebands contain Very Intelligent Personal Assistants (Veeps), like Alexa on steroids, though personable. Beetle cryptocurrency is the only legal currency. Cars are driverless. AI is embedded in everything: Talking refrigerators recommend healthier foods; brushing your teeth sends physiological data to analyze your health. BeetleInspire nonstop suggests better alternatives. Beetle executives send lifelike avatars to virtual boardroom meetings.
Lifechain, so accurate that predicted criminal behavior is a punishable offense, is crashing. More glitches, called “zed events,” are messing with the system’s predictions, causing Veeps to malfunction and befuddling Matthias’ language-censoring Bespoke program.
The author of four previous novels, including the award-winning debut “Inglorious” and “A Field Guide to Reality,” British novelist Joanna Kavenna cleverly combines dark humor and Pynchonesque storytelling in this insightful, unsettling look at how technology impacts our lives. With philosophical underpinnings (determinism versus free will), she crowds this tale with imaginative real and virtual characters, offering hope against techno-tyranny, for instance, through an idealistic newspaper editor who owns a musty paperback of “All the President’s Men” and off-the-grid hackers who crack Beetle’s encryption system.
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