3 out of 5 stars
A fast and fun read that unfortunately does not live up to what it promises.
This is a novel about the power of words and information. And the author won’t let you forget about that for one moment. He will beat you over the head with not-so-subtle allusions and descriptions of social networks and the media and all those evil-doers who infringe on our privacy.
I am not saying that privacy is a bad thing, not at all. It is an important issue! But the way all kinds of media are demonized in the little snippets that intersect the actual plot was just too much for me. Yes, we get it, if we give away too much personal information it can – and will – be used against us. In his novel Barry takes this notion one step further. It is no longer just THE MEDIA or THE CORPORATIONS who will target us but one organisation whose members can actually influence people by simply saying words.
This is actually what I liked about this book. The members of this organisation are recruited – in the female protagonist’s case directly from the streets – and sent to an academy in order to learn how to ascertain which “segment” a person belongs in and how to influence them accordingly. They learn about psychology and linguistics. I wish this part would have had more depth and detail. But – BUT – Barry only touches upon this lightly and we are left guessing how segmenting and establishing certain keywords is actually done.
Instead we get action. Lots of it! And conspiracy! And running and shooting! Fun, yes, but it could have done with a little less action and a lot more background. One question that kept popping up in my mind was “what does this corporation actually do? What are its goals?”. This is never answered. They seem to have money and power in abundance and there are versions of it everywhere in the world. And they train people in influencing others and I guess they are using their neat skills in some commercial way, alas, we never find out!
The narrative structure made for an interesting diversion from all the running and shooting that happens for most of the book. The way the two narrative threads take place in different temporal settings and only start to come together and make sense towards the end made me want to follow the story (although the final “plot twist” was visible from miles away). The jumps between the two protagonists’ points of view keep you on your toes when you have started to mentally wander off again thinking about the corporation’s raison d’être.
So, let’s summarize. It is a fun read about the power of words and how the brain can be outwitted via language. The plot and characters were interesting enough for me to want to find out what it’s all about. It could have used more details and depth, though (character- and plot wise!).