BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A murderous love triangle is played out within a virtual reality built for uploaded consciousnesses.
PROS: Explores numerous thought-provoking issues surrounding the idea of a virtual reality heaven; employs cool ideas and scenarios that are seemingly never-ending.
CONS: The story eventually branches out in too many directions.
BOTTOM LINE: Some great thought-provoking ideas get diluted by a plot that tries to cover too much.
One of the most powerful things literature can do is to engage the reader through the exploration of thought-provoking issues – and science fiction is the perfect genre to do so. A good example of this is Keith Brooke’s latest novel, The Accord.
The story involves a realistic virtual reality Heaven called The Accord which is inhabited by the uploaded consciousnesses of people who have died in our real world. It may sound like a breeding ground for anarchy but here’s the catch: The Accord is ruled by a set of governing protocols derived from a global consensus of its inhabitants. Thus, there cannot be multiple copies of you running around all over the place, for example, because most people believe that to be outside the realm of what is real. If the protocols detect an anomaly, the virtual reality changes to resolve the discordance. Sounds cool, right? Now imagine further those good intentions of stability being laid to waste when some minds acquire ways to override the protocols and control the accord with godlike powers that alter their new reality.
Within this mind-blowing mental playground lies a plot of love and murderous revenge. Noah Barakh is the architect of the Accord who has fallen in love with Priscilla, the wife of Jack Burnham, the influential European politician who is connected with the project. Burnham quickly finds out that Noah and Priscilla have been romantically linked inside of Noah’s prototypes version of The Accord. The pair of forbidden lovers…let’s say “escape”…to The Accord. Not content to let his wife and her lover live out their immortality together in Heaven, Burnham sets out to destroy The Accord itself.
I can hear you already: What, another book about uploaded consciousness? But take heart…Keith Brooke’s take on posthumanism is one of the best treatments of the subject I’ve ever seen. Why? Because it’s grounded in thought-provoking issues. Is The Accord a viable solution to the real world’s overpopulation and national border problem? Is life itself less precious when we have a free ticket to immortality in a virtual heaven? The technology behind uploading one’s consciousness also gives rise to desperate people renting out their bodies to rich thrill-seekers (as detailed in the excellent short story/extract, “Sweats”, reviewed here). Who, then, is legally responsible for crimes committed with the body of someone who is being controlled by someone else’s consciousness? If you can control the virtual reality, do you have the right to play God? These are just a few of the fantastic ideas that are presented to the reader and explored at significant length. These are concepts that make you stop and think; that make you realize how revolutionary such a technology can be. Brooke’s ideas are seemingly never-ending.
With such a powerful platform to explore these issues, it was a bit disconcerting, though perhaps not surprising, to see the story branch out in so many directions in the second half of the book. Too many ideas were being tossed about, enough to dilute the powerful themes that came before. Some of these included: the upgrading of The Accord from “netspace” (version 1.0) to quantum space (version 2.0); expanding the virtual Utopia onto other worlds through space exploration; an artist who can shape The Accord herself; and others. This is not to say that these new avenues were not interesting (or even relevant in some cases), but I do think that they were better left explored in subsequent stories. The core issues originally introduced played out better against the focused main plot of love, murder, and revenge. The subsequent evolutions of The Accord, for example, could easily have stood as the scaffolding for entirely new stories, allowing this one to shine even more. I suspect that the author realized he had tapped into a rich well of ideas and, like a kid in a candy store, bit off a little more than he can chew. I felt the same eagerness reading The Accord, but even so, would love to see further exploration of these fascinating ideas in altogether new stories.