“It’s like this,” Chandra said. “Your bank has a computer. Let’s say there’s a glitch… a data-entry error, whatever… and suddenly it says you don’t have any more money. That makes it real. It becomes true.” She kept her eyes fixed to my face, as though looking for a particular reaction.
This was a little too much for me, a little too close to home, so I winced. “Saying something doesn’t make it so.”
She relaxed and sat back, shaking her head. “You’re wrong.” – Revision, Andrea Phillips
Note – this is a review of an eARC, provided to me for no-charge by the publisher Fireside Fiction Company after I responded to an open call for honest reviews on Twitter.
Revision – 4 out of 5 stars
1 March 2015 update. Just a quick FYI: the first three chapters are now available on-line here.
4 stars – Very good. Would happily recommend to others, this will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.
I have to admit, I was so keen to do this review that I took out extra time on a bunch of library books I already had just to slot this one in to my schedule. The premise of the novel was attractive (if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have volunteered to review), but I was also keen to hit up a book by a new author, female if possible. I’ve read a number of old classics so far this year, (H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson), and only the one woman author (the MaddAddam trilogy by Atwood). So I have been a bit remiss in the diversity this year (although I have more lined up), and I figured it was time to do something about this.
Mira starts the story as a coffee shop slacker – a college drop-out, unreliable worker, and generally disappointing daughter of a wealthy family, with little to no apparent direction in life. She is living rough, like only a trust fund baby with Mummy & Daddy’s golden parachute can. After she is unceremoniously dumped by her dot-com entrepreneur boyfriend Benji, she undertakes a common (if petty) vengeance – she updates Benji’s profile on his own website Verity (a Wikipedia style site) to say they are engaged. Shortly later, Benji shows up with bubbles and baubles asking for her hand in marriage. Mira wonders at this amazing coincidence, but says yes.
Days later, Mira is tracked down by a co-founder of Verity – Chandra. Chandra makes claims that Verity does more than just record news and facts, it creates them, encouraging events to occur and influencing people to do things, and that Benji’s motives are not exactly honourable.
From here Mira is drawn into a complex web of intrigue with Verity at the middle, straining Mira’s relationships with friends and family, and making her question who she can trust and what is real.
This was an interesting story, great premise, well written and… well very different to my normal reading material. My usual scifi fare (which flicks between the 40k military scifi of the Black Library, to the classics of John Wyndham and Arthur C Clarke) are generally heavily plot driven, frequently action oriented. This book sits on the other end of this scale and is an excellent example of a character-driven novel. Don’t get me wrong, there is action, but rather than being the focus it serves to advance the drama, and to affect the protagonist Mira and her relationships. The emphasis here is on Mira’s emotions and her connections and interactions with others, and it is done very well.
I loved the premise here, the notion of website able to affect reality, even in a minor way, is a cool one and not only because it reminded me of the Stephen Colbert created word ‘wikiality’. What I think Phillips did really well here was to use this idea, this ‘influencing reality’ notion, to cast doubt on who and what Mira could trust, and to use this mistrust to and suspicion to Ping-Pong her around emotionally. Could she trust Benji? Was this unfortunate incident an accident or was Benji ‘taking steps’? Could Chandra be trusted? At every stage and turn Mira is forced to re-examine her relationships, whilst her and her support networks are sorely tested.
As this is character novel, it helped having an interesting protag. Mira was written as a funny and likeable young woman, and it was enjoyable to watch her struggle and face the many challenges here. What I thought was very interesting was that Mira was not a ‘strong character’ in the ‘ass-kicking chick’ trope sense – aka – she isn’t Buffy/Black Widow/River Tam (don’t get me wrong, I love me some Joss Whedon), she is just a person. She isn’t successful, she isn’t reliable, and she isn’t the chosen one. She isn’t perfect; she is a flawed individual – for example, Mira thinks she desires independence, but when things get tough, she calls up Daddy’s lawyer to pay her bills, showing that her resolve (at the start of the book at least) isn’t particularly tough. I think that by giving us a relatively normal person as a character, Phillips allows us to actually relate to Mira, to better understand her choices (good and bad) and to better associate with her as she faces her challenges and grows. Being able to relate to Mira adds some weight to the emotions and actions of a character who has found herself in a situation far over her head.
From a style perspective, the writing is quick, engaging, and heavy on the dialogue and introspection. Descriptions are light (I don’t recall any cumbersome exposition, the history of Verity was revealed through dialogue that seemed natural), and the tech/scifi-physics discussion of how Verity ‘works’ is appropriately brief. As it is written in first person, the reader is treated to a detailed view inside Mira’s head, with knowledge and secrets revealed at the same rate that Mira discovers them. I find first person POV a bit annoying when I start reading a book because you are thrust into the protag’s head without a warm up – like a new pair of shoes, it takes a while to wear a new character in. This could be why I found the start of the novel to be a bit of a slow starter – then again, it could be my limited exposure to reading character novels.
There was also the rare moment where I though Mira went over some issue one too many times; I understand she was vacillating on these points, but at some stage I got a bit frustrated and I think she needed to just move on already. (Maybe this says more about my lack of patience…).
To finish up, I think this is a very good story and a great debut novel. It’s not perfect, but few books are.
Revision is imaginative, well written and fun.