By Adam Roberts
Social Media has changed the world we live in today by accelerating the polarisation of opinion. No longer is a debate a two-way conversation between people discussing their own point of view, but a slanging match in which neither side can see the others’ point of view. Until the last couple of years, it felt like social media was the future, but bad management can turn the population off a platform quickly. But what if they promised eternal life? The This is more than just a platform, it is a way of being, communicating, living forever, but Adam Roberts suggests that there is more to eternal life than a Twitbook account.
The This is an increasingly popular collective. As the world descends into chaos, there is a place of peace, where you share your consciousness with other. Sure, you can post to The This from your phone, but don’t you want that chip inserted into the top of your mouth so that you are always connected? For some people this all sounded like too much trouble; Rich would rather stay at home and do just enough freelance work to feed himself. In the near future, Adan has all he needs with an artificial companion to love. Both these leftfield characters do not know it, but they are going to play a fundamental role in the future of The This and of humanity itself.
Science Fiction is such a wonderful genre as it is so many things from space opera to speculative fiction. It is a genre that can let you experiment and have fun with the concept of narrative and that is what Roberts does in The This. There is a through story, but it can also be read like a series of short stories and asides. Like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, it is a whole, but the parts stand by themselves.
It depends on your ability to twist your mind to complex concepts on what parts work best for you as a reader. I am a simple story follower, so for me the tales of Rich and Adan stood out. They are both normal people swept up in strange new worlds they cannot understand. Neither is the most dynamic character and can even be described as lazy, but these flawed characteristics are perfect when comparing them to the slick entity that is The This. You get the feeling that a collective will only be as strong as the weakest link, therefore, why would you want either Rich or Adan to be part of it?
This is the question at the core of The This. For some reason they are important and in other parts of the book you are offered a glimpse into the eclectic world of AI and collective consciousnesses. Being both a collective and made up of individuals makes these parts of the book harder to follow as you jump from the singular to the collective and back again throughout a paragraph, never mind a chapter. I struggled a little, but did pick up clues as to what was happening in the more grounded parts of the story.
I will be the first to admit that when it comes to hard science fiction, I am not always the best at following it, so some sections of The This baffled me. I get the sense there is real depth there for someone to unpick. I instead hung onto the more linear parts of the tale and characters I could understand, if not like. Roberts has catered to both types of reader of fun sci fi and hard sci fi. If you are a reader who can appreciate both types, there is a lot of interesting and entertaining material within the psyche of The This.
Written on 15th November 2022 by Sam Tyler .