For the latest and greatest installment of the Tehben Book Club ft. Nelson Rockingham, I tackle the sequel to Proximity by Jem Tugwell: No Signal. The original book ended with some of the pillars of the social and political order being challenged. It will be interesting to see how this story continues the fracturing of what the public has come to trust as the “perfect security”.
To bring you up to speed, our story is set in the not-so-distant future of the UK where a revolutionary technology called iMe has radically changed life as we know it. Imagine all of the capabilities of your phone, mixed with the motion recognition of an Xbox Kinect, interfaced in a way similar to Google Glass (but like, in a cool, totally-not-lame way), combined into a single implant at the base of your neck. Oh and it can track in real time what you eat, the nutritional values of your food, and is Bluetooth synced to everything around you such that only you can unlock your front door when it recognizes you touching it. Really neat, right? Well, it also continuously records where you go and who you come into contact with. And it’s mandatory to have one. Yea, you can see now where there might be some problems here.
In our first book, the “big question” was: What if someone could hide and/or duplicate their signals through some unprecedented technological leap? For all anyone knows and says, iMe is unhackable. Well they said the Titanic was unsinkable and we all know how that ended.
In book two, we see a different aspect of the UK’s iMe system: how it relates to tourism. Sure, UK citizens are compelled by law to have this fancy bit of tech implanted in their necks but do they do that for some random Frenchman popping in to observe how English food has no soul? No, but it turns out they settle for the “next best” thing: an unbreakable bracelet that cannot be removed** that functions basically the same as iMe but is registered to the immigrant. It’s kinda like an Apple Watch. That way, the tourist can have access to the UK’s online banking, public transportation, etc. Oh, and the government can still track you and if you overstay your visa, they get a shiny red alert notice, track you down, and swiftly deport you.
**There may be an obscure work-around for this
The main story arc follows the exploits of our intrepid Inspector Clive Lussac, his junior officers Ava Miller and Zoe Jordan, as well as four elite AR video game players Femi, Tatsuko, Lilou, Sully, and their puppetmaster: the mysterious Serge. After an “unorthodox” set of elimination challenges, Serge sets the Four on the world’s most dangerous and demanding AR competition. After entering the UK, aka the Forbidden Island, each player must reach a different starting point, from which they’ll race to a unique objective. Don’t get caught, and don’t finish last; the winner is to receive riches, fame, glory, and a truly special parting gift. As the game evolves, our daring police officers eventually enter the race in a quest to beat the competitors to their respective finish lines. What happens if the officers are too slow?
While the pacing of this book is a little slow in the beginning, the pace definitely picks up on the middle. Once the Game is on, it is essentially a country-wide game of cat and mouse. Except the cat can’t see, hear, or smell the mice, they just know where they were at the start of the game. Millions watch their favorite player on streams, and huge bets are placed on the outcome of the match. Meanwhile, Serge monitors their progress from the relative safety of France. He also acts as a referee, and can disqualify the players if they break the rules or are apprehended.
Overall, the book is thrilling and intriguing. As an excellent sequel to Proximity, it sheds new light on the dystopia of a “utopian” UK. While the Race was a blast, I’m a little let down by the end as there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions. Some things seem a little too convenient. Furthermore, our de facto main character, Clive Lussac is up and down and all over the place throughout. I have a feeling that many, if not all, of these issues will be addressed in the following book. Inspector Lussac has hit a tipping point, and it seems the political and social structure of the UK has also hit this limit as well. I have some theories, and I’m highly interested to see how it works out. Think of this like the end of the Half-Blood Prince where Snape kills Dumbledore (not a spoiler 11 years later) and we all just sat there like “WHAT”. Then Deathly Hallows tied things back together, that is the kind of thing I expect with Tugwell’s next story in the series. And just like with those Harry Potter books, I wait with similar anticipation.
I can’t help but wonder what Boris Johnson would feel about the society described in these books. It would either be his wet dream, or his worst nightmare. Immigration is HIGHLY regulated, and the borders (patrolled by missile carrying drones) aren’t just tight, they’re basically sealed shut. Robbery, murder, and other crimes are basically at zero, since the police can track your movements and arrest you in the most open-and-shut system of justice I’ve ever seen. Furthermore, monitoring and regulating what people eat, as well as compelling them to exercise, and pre-disease screenings have elevated the lifespan to around 95 years old. But then there’s Big-Brother watching over you, fining you for going outside your “Freedom Unit” allowance if you have a biscuit with your fish ‘n’ chips. That’s where I think Boris would be frightened, if he couldn’t have all of the bangers and mash he wanted, and was penalized through taxes.
Jem Tugwell is a crime fiction author with a Crime Writing MA from City University.
NO SIGNAL is the second book in the iMe series and follows his thrilling debut novel PROXIMITY.
Jem is inspired by the fascinating possibilities of technology, AI and the law of unintended consequences. In a past life, Jem had a successful career in technology and investment management, and he lives in Surrey with his wife and dog. He has two great children. Outside of his family and writing, Jem’s loves are snowboarding, old cars and bikes.
Please visit Jem’s website (www.jemtugwell.com) to read more.
Follow Jem on:Twitter @JemTugwellFacebook & Instagram JemTugwellAuthor
Purchase Links (release date June 4th, 2020)
Amazon UK : https://amzn.to/3ddgY8j
Amazon US : https://amzn.to/2y5qJ9E
Amazon CA : https://amzn.to/2VPwYHx
Amazon Australia : https://amzn.to/2WcgE2z
Kobo : https://bit.ly/3f7eNog
Google : https://bit.ly/3aOa4ok
B&N : https://bit.ly/2YohFXZ
Apple : https://apple.co/3bMbeBX
Goodreads link : https://bit.ly/2WbnhSN
Follow Nelson Rockingham on Twitter.