Everything you need to know about this novella can be found in the synopsis, in fact, maybe too much is there. Still, in the world of “Viral Spark” humans have come to rely on machines—specifically digital implants and robots—for pretty much everything. There’s this light, depressing vibe a-la-Wall-E going on in this book that I kind of loved: people cluster like insects in their massive buildings, rarely leaving. Everything from their food to their clothes is 3D printed, and changing the décor of your apartment is just a swipe away on your own augmented reality screen. There is a lovely undertone of a dystopian here that I wanted to see more of, but as this is a novella, the focus remained firmly on the glitches in the main character’s system, and not the world McConnell places the reader in.
This book was fairly easy to knock-out. Even with all the glitches going on in the world that the characters are nervous about, the stakes were pretty low so I never felt any sort of tension that made me worried for the characters or their world at large. Which actually made it a pretty decent read right before bed when I didn’t want anything overly heavy. I do think that lack of tension does come from the light world building present in the novella, as I never felt like I knew enough about the society or how it functions to be all that invested when the glitches happened. I couldn’t see the major issues with those malfunctions the way the main characters did.
However, when it comes to feeling like I’m reading something very authentic to how programming works, or would work in this world, the author does a great job! I got the sense of how smart Robert was and how smart the virus was they were working against without being completely lost by the programming jargon. So, if that’s something that puts you off from the harder science-fiction books, you don’t need to worry about that here! The story and the technology are easy to understand, and the light romance in the book all make this an appropriate YA or coming-of-age story as well, as the main character is just about finished with his schooling.
Ultimately, the restrained nature of the novella left me struggling to feel much passion one way or another, either for the main characters, or the world the author puts his readers in. The concept, and the core of the book are all very interesting, but I just never saw enough of it to care as much as I wanted to. That could be because we get a lot more of how Robert actually goes about programming the robots etc. or it could be that the world McConnell has crafted is just too vast and complicated to get the justice it rightly deserves in such a condensed format. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Robert and his world in sequels, as there are some fabulous ideas here just waiting to be explored. So, did I like the novella? Yes, it was fine. Would I read a sequel? Yes, the writing was solid and the core question of if an AI is alive is a fascinating one. But I did want to feel more. I wanted to understand this new world more and have it fully fleshed out, and thus, have the stakes of what Robert needed to do feel worthy of the panic the rest of the characters respond to the glitches with. All in all, this is a nice little sci-fi read that is begging for more: hopefully in the form of a sequel. So for now, this is a pretty solid 3 stars for me, and thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review!
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