Once upon a time the prospect of a self-published book filled a reviewer with dread. So many of them had too many things wrong with them for them to be taken seriously. As the major publishers have cut back on the numbers of books published and editors have had less time to bring on a promising if flawed new writer, those with ambition to see themselves in print have resorted either to chasing down small press publishers or self-publishing. There is still a lot of dross that appears under the latter banner. There are also some that, in other circumstances, would have merited greater attention from the establishment. Often the question now is what stopped the novel catching their attention.
David Wake has already made his mark as a writer of one-act plays which have been produced in the smaller theatres around the Midlands and at the annual Easter SF conventions. In this respect, he has shown a marked talent for the absurd. This has been carried over into the writing of this novel and when reading this book it is a requisite to watch out for literary allusions, beginning with the title.
‘I, Phone’ is SF tainted with chick-lit. In this case, it is not a bad thing. The entire novel is narrated by a technologically advanced phone (at least it was until yesterday) that has been named Jeeves by its owner, Alice Wooster. Alice lives in a totally consumerist society seduced into a virtual utopia. Two items of technology are essential: a phone and a headset. The phone contains an AI chip and is aware of the world around it even if reacting tangibly with it is almost impossible. After all, it is contained in a small piece of hardware. It is more aware of the real state of its surroundings than its owner and has a similar relationship with Alice as the original Wodehouse characters did. Without her phone, Alice would have problems functioning. With the exponential rate of technological development, Jeeves is aware that he is likely to be superseded alarmingly soon, possibly within hours as a system called ‘full embodiment’ comes on line. The headsets mostly resemble glasses and allow the wearer access to a virtual world. Most consumers view the world through them on a continuous basis, thus with full embodiment they will see the shopping mall as a spectacular place in which everything they could possibly want is available. The reality, as Jeeves shows us, is of rundown, scruffy buildings in dire need of painting and renovation, which instead of the cleanliness they appear to have are actually filthy and litter strewn.
What Alice wants is a real relationship with a man. She and her best friend, Jilly, go to dating bars in order to try to meet men yet they don’t really see the people around them at all as, including Alice and Jilly, they are effectively disguised as movie stars from early films such as ‘Brief Encounter’. They rely on their phones to get proper information for them. The plot really starts at one of these evenings when the man Alice takes home is murdered and Jeeves finds he has a memory of Alice doing it, even though he was switched off at the time. This allows Alice to go on the run through a semi-farcical series of events while Jeeves is trying to prove her innocence and become physically reunited with her.
For a debut novel, this is an ambitious project and perhaps tries to do too much. David Wake has tried to put everything into it and much will pass over the heads of the average reader. It is however, very cleverly written. At its heart is a futuristic thriller which employs extrapolations of the way technology is advancing in order to get its effects. At the same time, it is a warning of what the technological classes could expect if they constantly desire the new gadgets and are intent in keeping up the superficial veneers offered by the new developments. It is also an indictment of the way in which people, especially the young, increasingly live life at second hand via their technologies and dwell in an increasingly artificial reality without making real connections between others in the real world.
Although this book deserves a wider distribution because of the bleak future it depicts and that we seem to be rapidly heading towards, its niche is probably amongst the small press and independent publishers as its intensity would overwhelm the average mass market reader (as the chapters are numbered in binary this in itself would be found off-putting by some). As a thought-provoking book tempered by the farcical elements, it is certainly worthy of consideration.
(pub: Watledge Books, Birmingham, UK. 299 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.00 UK); e-book: £ 4.64 (UK): ISBN: 978-1-48230-648-4)
check out website website: www.davidwake.com