Crosstalk by Connie Willis (book review).

November 29, 2016 | By | Reply More

Most people would agree that the pace of life has increased exponentially over the last thirty years or so. With it has the apparent need for rapid and incessant communication. Companies, such as Apple and Samsung, vie with each other to be the first to announce the next big innovation. The pressures to perform have increased, too, especially in the smaller companies that try to keep up brand leaders. To be a small fish isn’t good enough and those who work for the companies need to perform at the highest level if they are to keep their jobs. Briddey Flannigan, the main protagonist in Connie Willis’ new novel ‘Crosstalk’, works for a small communications company fighting to keep up with Apple. Her boyfriend, Trent Worth, needs the next big thing to cement his position in the company.


In the early days of telephone communication, domestic phones often had to share a line as insufficient lines had been installed. It wasn’t unusual to pick up the receiver and hear the conversation on the party-line. In the UK, this was simply referred to as getting a ‘crossed line’. In the US, it was ‘crosstalk’. Now, with personal systems, the term is more likely to relate to misunderstandings, often due to insufficient or wrong information. That, of course, wouldn’t happen if minds were connected.

In the culture of ‘Crosstalk’, couples who are in love can have an EED (Emotion Enhancement Device) implanted. This should enable them to experience their partner’s emotional state and heighten their relationship. When Briddey arrives at work, at the start of this novel, the office grapevine has already spread the word that she and Trent are going to get EEDs. Usually, this is a sign that a couple are committed to each other and a marriage is in the offing. Not everyone is happy about the idea. Her colleague, C.B. Schwartz, who is responsible for most of the ideas the tech team develop, tries to persuade her out of the procedure, alarming her with the idea of ‘unexpected consequences’. Her family, too, are against the idea. She gets an annoying amount of texts and phone calls from them under normal circumstances. If it wasn’t family, it would be harassment. There is a comic element with her sister, Mary Clare, always believing that her nine year-old daughter, Maeve, is involved in nefarious activities. Maeve only wants to watch ‘Tangled’ and zombie films but Mary Clare wants Briddey to solve problems, while another sister, Kathleen, is always asking for advice about the string of loser boyfriends that never last much more than a day.

Life is hectic. Briddey has endless and frequent meetings to attend and electronic communications to deal with. Then the EED procedure is scheduled much earlier than expected and, to avoid the hassle from the office grapevine and family, she tries to keep it secret. The unexpected consequence is that, instead of getting emotional vibes from Trent, she gets a telepathic connection to C.B. and it scares her. It’s not what she wants but she can live with it, except C.B. tells her this just the beginning. At the theatre with Trent, she freaks out as all the thoughts of all the theatre-goers flood into her mind, overwhelming her senses. It is C.B. that rescues her and starts to teach her the defences she needs to survive.

Crosstalk’ deals with a number of issues in a very readable, though frenetic way. The characters race through life without pausing for breath. Work and family pressures already bombard Briddey from all sides, she doesn’t need everyone else’s, often derogatory, thoughts as well. This is a world where communication is paramount and, while telepathy would seem to be quick and easy way to exchange information without having to spend time texting or chasing down people on the phone, it also highlights the problems. Everyone would be a receiver and a transmitter simultaneously. Without skill and practice, tuning in to a particular person would be difficult.

Pauline Morgan

November 2016

(pub: Del Rey/Penguin/Random House. 495 page hardback. Price: $28.00 (US), $37.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-34554-067-6)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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