One of the perks of being a teacher is access to the school Library. One of my favourite de-stress activities at the moment is, after work, sneaking into the library, grabbing an interesting looking book and going to a Wetherspoons pub to read it with a couple of pints of ale. Most relaxing thing EVER! My latest acquisition from the school library was W.E, which grabbed my attention with its back cover that reads:
‘In the furthest, coldest, darkest reaches of our solar system, Paul Munro is on a mission from which he can never return. A desolate ice-covered moon will be his home for the rest of his life. And only from here can he see what humanity has become.
A thriller to freeze your blood. To absolute zero.’
Sounded pretty good to me, so I gave it a read. The basic premise is that Paul Munroe – a communications specialist – is sent to a freezing moon orbiting Neptune in order to replace the previous, deceased, communications officer and discover why some of the transmissions from the remote station are being corrupted. In order for this to happen Paul has to be disengaged from the World Ear – an implant that connects nearly every member of the planet, rendering the external senses – especially speech – nearly obsolete. The W.E has turned humanity into something resembling a hive-mind, with little in the way of individual thought processes and automatic discussion and confirmation of all thoughts. Nine years of stasis later, Munroe arrives at the station and has to learn to adjust to life without the W.E in a world with only 3 others, while also discovering the source of the transmission problems.
The plot is incredibly basic, but does a great job of staying engaging throughout. The concept of the World Ear is not that implausible as the future of humankind, drawing on current electronic social communication – mobiles, facebook, email, twitter, webcams, Wikipedia – and tying them together into one all-consuming social interface. If it were possible I imagine we might have it already. The book picks up both on the advantages to this, but also questions the social and developmental effect heavy and constant reliance on technology could be – especially in terms of removing meaningful personal relationships and individuality. The book manages to mix sci-fi and topical social commentary fantastically well and in many respects the plot is only there as a transportation device for its commentary on technological reliance and what it is to be human.
Human interaction is also portrayed very well – giving us characters and relationships that are under huge amounts of pressure and stress, with our characters both relying on one another deeply but also struggling to trust one another and survive with each other in such close quarters and under such harsh conditions at the edge of the galaxy.
After having discovered such an enjoyable read my overarching disappointment has to be the ending, if one can really call it an ending at all. The plot gets interesting, a few decisions are made and then, where you would expect the plot to suddenly get exciting and complicated it just ends. You turn the page and the book is over. I hoped that this might be just an abrupt ending to one part of a series, but Wikipedia has revealed to me that this is in fact a stand-alone novel and no plot conclusions shall ever be drawn to WE. I know that there is a certain type of novel that like to leave themselves on cliff-hangers, but this ending isn’t even that! It just stops, like Dickinson got bored and the manuscript was unfinished. Maybe he did get bored, or was just unsure where to lead the plot. Either way, incredibly frustrating and seriously diminishes my recommendation of this book. Unsatisfying endings ruin books and at least in my case made me feel a little cheated.
W.E is probably worth a read simply because it makes you examine the human condition and the effect our heavy reliance on technology might be having on it. The World Ear is not far from reality and sometimes taking a step back and really examining our society and technological reliance is eye-opening. That said, the plot is good, but its conclusion is unsatisfactory. Therefore if you are uninterested in social commentary and like a good, satisfying ending to a book – give it a miss!