After an extended absence, I have returned to the TehBen Book Club with my latest assignment: a review of Proximity by Jem Tugwell. If you’ll allow me to break with an old idiom, I’m going to judge this book by it’s cover just a little bit. I’m feeling this story embodies a techno, sci-fi vibe, with maybe a little Tron mixed in. This artwork, combined with the ambiguously single-worded title, and I’m already at peak intrigue before I’ve turned the first page. Now.. on to the main event!
The story of Proximity by Jem Tugwell is set in a future version of our world, possibly within the next century, where the functions of modern day cell phones have been biometrically implanted inside everyone. This groundbreaking technology is called iMe, and it’s pretty much like having a popular version of Google Glass (but it’s inside you).
You can pay for things by placing your hand on a pad. The door to your apartment will only unlock when it detects your unique signal, since it’s based on your genetic signature. Background apps track your calorie and nutrient intake, your exercise patterns, vitals, etc. All of this data is then compared to a diet and training regimen put forth by the government titled “The Model Citizen”.
Right about here is where things should start to turn from fun, ultra-convenient, and useful towards feeling a touch Orwellian. You’re still allowed some “liberties” of course, but these cost a certain amount of “Freedom Units”. Craving a Reese’s Cup? Or how about a couple glasses of wine after a long, stressful week? These are permitted but they are also heavily regulated and taxed, and there’s no bypassing the iMe if you want more than you’re allowed. Where this whole system should really start to rustle your jimmies is when you learn that iMe also tracks your location, down to which room in your house you’re currently in. What’s so different about that and the cellphone in your pocket, you ask? You can’t turn off iMe or disconnect it from the network, at least that’s what the iMe Corporation and the Government tell you…
In defense of the system, the strict dieting plans in place have virtually eliminated the scourge of obesity and its associated maladies. Furthermore, muggings, murders, rapes, and other sort of “Proximity Crimes” (hey, it’s the title!) have also dropped to nearly zero. When such a crime is reported, the police simply review the GPS traces of the victim until they find the perpetrator at the time of the event. Badda-bing, badda-boom; There’s no guessing anymore, it was Colonel Mustard in the study with the lead pipe.
However, all of this changes when a woman is abducted, literally without a trace. This goes against every single safety and security measure that our future society has come to depend on. Is the infallible iMe a myth? Or has someone figured out a way to work outside the system, gone dark? And how will people sleep at night knowing that the technology they’ve sold their souls to protect them is starting to show cracks in its protective hull? Is Facebook still selling our personal information?
The narrative follows two police officers: Inspector Clive Lussac, a middle-aged man who “misses the good ol’ days before iMe”, and DC Zoe Jordan, a young woman whose entire adult life has been under the supposed safety net of iMe. This intrepid buddy cop duo is tasked with solving this unprecedented disappearance. As the reader, we also get a few chapters told from the perspective of the criminal as well. This is an interesting touch, because we are privy to knowledge that our main protagonists are not. Through the many twists and turns the story takes, the reader and detectives alike are kept on their toes wondering what the next move of the Thief will be.
At times it can be frustrating the lengths to which the author has gone to build up suspense in the action, as well as the dramatic reveal of the Thief’s identity. However, this just makes the moment when the pieces fit together even more satisfying. I would have liked to see Clive make some more strides as a character, but Zoe’s transformation within the story more than makes up for it. Ultimately, the true value in this book is in the questions it makes us ask as we look forward towards the future. Biometric implants and self-driving cars are just on the other side of the horizon, and the debate of security vs privacy is going to need to come to a head.
All I know is this story could never have been set in the United States, as Americans would NEVER allow Big Brother to encroach on our God-given, Constitutional right to eat bacon cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! *Eagle Screech* *Guitar Riff*
Special thanks to R&R Book Tours for provide a copy of Proximity to TehBen.com for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Author’s Twitter: @JemTugwell
Book Tour’s Twitter: @RRBookTours1
Publishor’s Twitter: @SerpentineBooks
Purchase Link: Amazon
Follow Nelson Rockingham on Twitter for more book reviews and random thoughts on shuffleboard game management.