Jessica Shirvington, Disruption (Disruption #1), HarperCollins, 1 July 2016, 416pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780732298104
Jessica Shirvington, Corruption (Disruption #2), HarperCollins, 1 July 2016, 448pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781460752197
Imagine a world where everything you do, every step you take, every heartbeat, every interaction is monitored by government-sanctioned corporations. Now imagine that you not only willingly let them do it, but you actually pay them to.
The story is set in a subtly dystopian near future America, where “M-Bands” and “M-Chips” – the next step in the evolutionary ladder from the Smart Phone – are government mandated, measuring, recording and even controlling the lives of every citizen on Earth.
The key element of the story is the “phera-tech”… a system that attaches to the M-Band and “rates” the compatibility between two people (expressed as a percentage score), by reading their pheromones. As long as you’re recording positive ratings with people, you’re all good. Record too many negative ratings though… you get branded a “neg”, and big guys with guns appear to see to it you’re never heard from again.
The books are written in the first person, from the point of view of the story’s protagonist, Maggie Stevens. This writing method allows Shirvington to use her lead character’s ‘voice’ to drive the narrative, speaking in colloquialisms and using modern turns of phrase and punctuation to accentuate Maggie’s emotions. The writing is well-paced and keeps the story moving along nicely.
Maggie makes a great character, and it’s fun being inside her head and reading in her voice, the way she thinks and speaks. She’s likeable, has a caustic wit and a distinct style all her own that makes the reader want to see her succeed in her quest.
In terms of the world of the books, what ultimately makes it so readable is that you start to believe that M-Bands really could be the natural progeny of the modern smart phone… whilst reading these books I saw ads everywhere for fitness bands and smart watches and it made me think that the technology described by Shirvington within the story really isn’t all that far-fetched. This gave the story more impact, got me thinking about the amount of personal information we freely give away on a daily basis via social media, and how it really wouldn’t take all that much for the government to start demanding it (hello, 2016 Census anyone?).
On balance I enjoyed the experience of reading both books back to back. The story was engaging and kept me turning the pages, though I have to say that by the end of the second book, I didn’t really think much of Shirvington’s lead male character, Quentin Mercer. I found him petulant, jealous, controlling and possessive. He was okay in the first book while the character was still developing, but when he just sort of “settled” in the second book with all of those attributes still very much intact, I found that I really wanted Maggie to dump him, and I was kind of disappointed that she seemed to lose so much of her inner strength for the sake of holding on to the pig-headed jerk.
While I’ve no doubt that there would be many teenage boys in the real world who would display such a sense of entitlement and privilege, this is fiction. In fiction we have the chance to make our characters whoever we want them to be, and I just found it disappointing that Maggie Stevens (who started out on a Katniss Everdeen-esque trajectory), squandered her potential so willingly; and that her supposed “true match” developed backwards and by the end I just wanted him to leave. I had considered the possibility that maybe that was the point and I’d missed it, but I’m pretty sure that the idea is for the reader to want Maggie and Quentin to end up together, and I just thought he was a creep. Oh well. Could be those are just my sensibilities, maybe he’d appeal more to others.
As I said, however, I did enjoy the books as a whole, they work really well as a genre piece, aren’t lacking in action and intrigue and are full of original ideas. Worth a look on that basis alone.
Reviewed by Christian Price