Crosstalk, by Connie Willis

CrosstalkI have been searching for a couple of years for a cute, quirky romance story as good as Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, with varying results. I have also been meaning to read more Connie Willis since I read To Say Nothing of the Dog even longer ago. So when I saw that Connie Willis wrote a cute, quirky romance story involving technology and telepathy? SOLD.

The slightly convoluted premise of this story is that in a world full of smartphones and social media, new technology has been created that allows, with a bit of surgery, couples who are emotionally bonded metaphorically to become literally emotionally bonded, with the technology allowing each person to feel the other’s emotions. This is… great?, in that it means you’ll always know if your partner loves you and how they’re feeling whether they want to tell you or not, but of course it’s awful for ALL SORTS of reasons. Our protagonist, Briddey, who does some sort of important job for a smartphone-related company, is asked by her boyfriend, Trent, who does some slightly more important job for the same company, to undergo this procedure, and she’s like, sure. But after she wakes up from the anesthesia, she discovers she’s not emotionally connected to Trent but rather telepathically connected to her sub-basement-dwelling coworker, C.B., who can hear all of her thoughts and who has a decidedly told-you-so attitude about this surgery.

Got that? Good, because things only get crazier from there.

I loved so much of this novel largely because Connie Willis speaks my humor language, writing sentences like, “And when she looked through the door’s glass-and-wire mesh window into the lab, C.B. was wearing a pea coat, a wool muffler, and fingerless gloves. And cargo shorts and flip-flops.” And “I’ve got just the thing. An app that translates what you say into what people want to hear. I text you, ‘You’re an idiot to be having brain surgery for any reason, let alone for some infantile notion that it’ll bring you true love,’ and the phone sends it as ‘Wow! Trent asked you to get an EED! How romantic!'”

And Willis does this amazing thing with her sentences that makes them feel rushed, like you have to read them as fast as you can before Briddey’s crazy Irish family shows up on your doorstep to tell you all about their every crisis, real or imagined. It’s a really neat trick and a clever commentary on the age of social media and all the information we’re asked to take in, but it’s also great because this book flies by.

Well, the first half or so does, anyway. Once we get out of the “Holy Mae Jemison what is even going on why am I telepathic what is Trent going to think oh god I can hear all the voices” bit and into the “Hey, this is how telepathy works and how you can make it work for you” bit the going is sooooo sloooooooow. Yes, it’s interesting that you thought this through, Connie Willis, but if we could get back to the flirting and the cuteness THAT WOULD BE GREAT.

The flirting and cuteness bits are also only pretty good, and the pacing of the romance storyline is like that of most such storylines, which is to say completely unrealistic, which makes this not the match for Attachments that I was hoping for.

I think if maybe Willis had given herself 300 pages to work with instead of 500, I would have liked this better — less explanation, more telepathy and cuteness. But, to be fair, I would not cut a single word of crazy Irish family banter because that is the best.

If you’re more forgiving of a romance storyline than I am, or if you have an author-crush on Connie Willis, I think you’ll enjoy this book just fine.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr, by David M. Henley

The Hunt for Pierre JnrI picked up this book for two reasons. The first was the abbreviation “Jnr” in the title, which was strange enough (oh, those Aussies) to make me stop and read the blurb. The second was the blurb, which began, “He can make you forget. He can control you. And he is only eight years old.” Soooooooooooooooold. (Someone’s been watching too much World Cup lately…)

At the beginning, the book lived up to all of my expectations, which were basically, this is going to be awesome. It starts with a big-headed child controlling people to do everything he wants and then discarding them when he’s done, and expands to include another telepath turning himself in to the government to help them find this child that the government doesn’t really believe exists in the first place, and then starts to describe this future world where there are telepaths who are greatly feared and therefore subjugated and where people are even more connected to the internet (here called the Weave) and each other than we currently are.

But where I thought the book would be about, you know, the hunt for Pierre Jnr, it’s far more about this future world and the consequences of connectivity and and the perils of prejudice and whether anyone’s mind is really his own.

And that’s pretty awesome, don’t get me wrong. Henley puts a lot of thought into our future government, where leaders are chosen by the Will of the people, who are polled constantly about their thoughts and their preferences and the people they like are put into power immediately. He also posits machines that allow people to communicate like telepaths between themselves and the Weave, and people who are bred to use these machines from birth. I am fascinated by this world.

But, two problems. The one with me is that I found myself thinking often, “This sounds reaaaaally familiar.” It turns out that this book is kind of a mashup of several books I’ve read recently, some of which I haven’t even gotten around to talking about here, and so I kept getting distracted thinking about the other books while I was meant to be thinking about this book and I got quite confused at times. I won’t spoil every crossover detail, but if you’ve read The Circle, Lock In, The Word Exchange, or Brilliance recently, you might find yourself in the same situation.

The one with the book is that it turns out that this is the first book in a trilogy, and as such Henley answers almost none of the questions that he brings up within the story — Is Pierre Jnr real? Whose minds is he controlling? What is his end game? What is the government’s end game? — and I finished the book completely frustrated and almost unwilling to seek out the next book whenever that comes out. Ugggh.

But even just a few days later, I find myself really wanting to know what happens next, so I suppose Henley wins this round. There had better be some answers in the next book, though, or I will take my complaints to the Internet!

Recommendation: For dark speculative fiction fans and those under the control of Pierre Jnr.

Rating: 8/10