painting by Fossfor
by John Dickinson
Publisher: David Fickling Books
WE grapples with the complex dynamic between an individual and a collective society. John Dickinson describes a dystopia where technology controls human interaction. Scarily, the potential for technology to take control over every element of our lives seems incredibly real, particularly when I think of how much I rely on my access to Google, my mobile phone, sat nav and social networking websites. In WE, Dickinson's futuristic vision is of a society that has created a network of communication and information sharing that spans the globe, and can be accessed in the blink of an eye through an implanted device behind an individual's ear. This network, the World Ear, allows multiple conversations/interactions to take place simultaneously. It removes the need for verbal communication (and the need for language), and removes the need to think for yourself. It seems to remove the humanity from the human race, replacing it with pure functionality and roboticism, where humans 'are no longer rational beings who think for themselves...They have become a part of a single, gigantic consciousness. That is the World Ear.'
The reader follows the plight of Paul Munro as he is disconnected from this collective World Ear and embarks on a lifelong mission to the furthest reaches of the Solar System to join a team of 3 people studying a gas planet. Munro has broken free from the controlled masses on Earth and ventures to a place that the World Ear cannot control. He is an outsider in 2 worlds; he loses his existence on his beloved and familiar Earth, and enters the unfamiliar, desolate, space station, where 3 individuals have lived closely together for a number of years. John Dickinson's use of a total outsider as a protagonist means that the reader has direct experience of 2 cultures; one controlled by technology, and the other infused with humanity.
Dickinson takes Munro, and the reader, on a painful journey through intense isolation, extreme paranoia and betrayal as he learns to live as an independent human being; he learns to speak, to cry, to read facial expressions, to discover his identity and his reason for living. This exploration of adjustment to a totally new way of living is followed by a chilling hunt for truth, which involves 'cold, concealed rage', and 'deep, bitter resentment, barely suppressed'. Dickinson is able to present powerful emotions and make acute observations of people; their motivations, actions and reactions. This, combined with the fiercely detailed and well imagined science and technology that would make space travel and life in zero atmosphere possible, makes WE an enjoyable and accessible novel.
Dickinson masterfully ends each chapter on a gripping note, propelling the narrative into the next development. The narrative touches upon big issues through a number of plot twists. It touches upon clashes of ideology, extraterrestrial 'life' and the reality of death, among other mind-bending concepts. However, I am not convinced that lumping all these 'big issues' together is conducive to a satisfying reading experience. They were flitted-between too quickly for my liking and this 'flitting' left me trying to deal with too many half-finished statements (about society, humanity, God, technology, the future, alien existence etc) at the same time. After finishing the novel, I was unable to summarise its conclusion. There were too many introductions of exciting possibilities, and not enough clear exploration of them. I felt Dickinson could have stuck to one or two primary themes, and developed them, rather than tackling a plethora of concepts and leaving them all only partially resolved.
In spite of this, WE is well worth reading for its insight and imagination. I loved the description of the effect zero gravity has on the human body; an effect which makes humans look quite alien. And I loved the futuristic gadgets that feature, especially the vehicle which you don't have to maneuver to turn around, you just have to switch the 'windscreen' display to show the rear view. Genius! If you like sci-fi and space travel with a sensitivity to human emotion and interaction, then this book is for you.
Read WE here