Vicarious

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Vicarious, by Rhett C Bruno, is kind of like The Truman Show if it were set a few hundred years in the future, and everybody on the show had no idea. The blurb for the book says it’s like The Truman Show meets Ready Player One, which is only remotely true. Aside from people spending inordinate amounts of time in VR, there’s not much else to draw a comparison to.

It’d be safer to say this is more like The Truman Show mixed with a sort of “The 100” vibe where the population is capped and ruthlessly enforced.

So in this world of the future, some of humanity live in perfectly controlled worlds of “High Earth”, where food is but a replicator away, your mood is controlled through drugs, and all your entertainment is streamed straight into your brain.

But of course, they’re the lucky ones. Make a mistake or run out of data credits, well then you’re evicted to live beyond the walls in the squalid remains where people will do anything for a VR data fix.

It could be worse, though. You could be on the world’s most popular reality show, “Ignis: Live”, thinking you’re the last hope for humanity and off to the stars to settle a new world, but really you’re just in a wide earth orbit and being watched like a never-ending episode of Big Brother.

Asher lives in a High Earth highrise apartment and is a producer for Ignis: Live. We meet him just as he is “born” into the world, fully formed, where he imprints like a baby bird on the first person he sees; Mission.

Mission lives inside a hollowed-out asteroid that is supposedly on its way to settle a new world. Unbeknownst to everyone on board, they are just puppets of the High Earth, placed there for entertainment.

There is a lot to like about this novel, but also so much of it that is cringeworthy, and some parts where stuff is just ignored or unresolved.

High Earth residents are supposed to be the cream of humanity, yet they don’t see anything wrong with just flat-out murdering people – either those who choose to exist outside society or the poor schlubs stuck inside the asteroid. I mean, yeah, their ancestors agreed to take part by signing up for the show, but forcing the deal on all the people since born into that world of slavery for TV is just flat-out morally wrong.

With strict population limits, lawbreakers get vented into space. What constitutes lawbreaking? Mostly it’s people having an unapproved baby. The whole thing is inside a closed environment where every drop of food and energy is needed, yet they routinely flush people into space. The normal dead get “recycled”, so their body and juices get pulped and recycled back into the ship. When every drop supposedly counts, flushing people into space makes no sense.

I know that Asher, the main High Earth character, thinks he is doing the right thing, but it’s also super creepy at the same time. He’s deeply in love with someone he’s basically stalked via TV and bases all his decisions around that. Not quite bunny-boiler, but pretty damn close. Incel and neckbeard are two terms that spring to mind.

The people of High Earth are all awful people. The people on Ignis, meanwhile, are a bit too simple for their own good… or perhaps too trusting. I mean, they only rely on what their computer readouts tell them. Really? In the fifty years it has been going on, no one thought to go spacewalk to check things out?

Personally, I found Mission’s story so much more interesting, but we got far less of that. Asher’s is the main story arc, but life on board the Ignis could have been a much more interesting story.

The narration by Wil Wheaton and Katherine McNamara was a mixed bag. There was a lot of shuffling-type sound behind Wil and, less frequently, Katherine. Overall, very poor production quality.

I felt Wil’s delivery was stilted and rather one-note. His narration frequently had me lost to who was speaking, not just because there was little variance in voices but also because there was not enough space between the end of one person talking and the next. So often, it sounded like a character was having both sides of a conversation with themselves. His snooty-ish tone and delivery suited the Asher character, though.

Katherine’s, meanwhile, was fantastic. Such a beautiful voice for narration. I could listen to her all day, and I’d love to hear more from here, but it looks like this is only one of two books she has ever done. It was also a bit disappointing that her side of the narration was secondary to Asher’s story.

So… I’m torn. Yes, it was a fun utopian/dystopian science fiction story with an interesting premise. Yet, many questions went unanswered, which I would have liked to see resolved. I guess that some were not critical to the plot but may have proved interesting to add backstory. Others would have just made things make more sense.

Plus, some very questionable choices by the characters, some of which just straight-up made no sense. Frequently, when clearly better options existed, they chose the most ridiculous or far-fetched solution. Some of the character motivations were questionable as well… namely the whole plan to goose the ratings of the show mentioned in the blurb.

Will I listen again? Unlikely. I did like “The Roach” by Rhett, so I doubt it’ll be the last of his I try, but I think I won’t give this another go. I’ll be looking for more by Katherine. Wil, I’ll likely skip over.

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