Matthew Mather sets up an ambitious project with this novel. He tells a story of a future when, through nanobots (smarticles) and virtual intelligence, we’re able to move from material consumption to virtual consumption and do so on an immensely rich scale. We can live within dream worlds while being green. So goes the theory. The books structure mirrors this future of placing splinters of yourself in various places simultaneously through providing vignettes that follow a single perspective where these vignettes partially overlap each other chronologically. The point-of-view shifts that overlap the next all come to crescendo of a single narrative flow as the novel concludes with some of the core cast of characters collapsing back to a single person. So the very structure of the story, even the pacing of the vignette changes, mirror what our cast of characters endure. Brilliant.
There is trouble in paradise almost from the beginning. We always go for the apple. Our own depravity is brought with us into the paradise of these virtual worlds. Before I dive in to that, however I’ll focus on the beginning vignette of the novel. To be honest, I almost gave up the novel at the very beginning. Olympia Onassis, erstwhile marketing executive and protagonist within the first vignette, is unequivocally the most obnoxious character I’ve read in the pages of a book. I’ve met many nastier characters who exude evil; she is not “a bad guy,” she’s just seriously irritating. To say that I didn’t care for this character is similar to Voldemort not caring for Harry. She is a caricature of the pushy New Yorker. Whomever narrated her role (the audio book has multiple narrators, about which more later – UPDATE: Angela Dawe “confessed” to giving voice to Olympia’s New Yorker tone) did a beautiful job bringing out that “Nanny”- like broad accent but ten times more grating. She yells at a clerk from the beginning, she has the attention span of an ant, she is consummately lazy ceding control of her mind because she can’t be bothered and becomes the first one to lose herself in her virtual pssi (polysynthetic sensory interface) world. I mostly read the Kindle version for this part and avoided the Audible version; at least I didn’t compound the foibles of the character by listening to it spoken with a push New York accent. In fact, I looked at the X-Ray feature of Kindle to see how much she was part of the story. I was delighted to see that she was just in the beginning. Whew. The premise and the execution thereof really intrigued me but there was no way I would read an entire novel filled with Olympia. While I have more fortitude than she (pretty much anyone would), there’s a limit to the pain I’ll endure. I’m really glad I did. Overall, The Atopia Chronicles is not just a clever premise with a rich and diverse world populated with interesting characters, it’s also just plain, good story telling in a novel manner.
As we flit between POVs of the various characters who grow up in with pssi as part of their world or are intimately intertwined with the pssi project, a picture begins to emerge that depravity of man is a much a part of the virtual world and the real one. Relationships are broken, people hurt one another and we bend, or pervert, each aspect of the pssi world to our own warped desires. Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t good in the virtual world. Just as there is good in the real one, there is good in virtual one. However, everyone is trying to take advantage of it, even if subconsciously through deeply hidden splinters of our psyche.
What did I love about The Atopia Chronicles?
- World Building: Mr. Mather incredible imagination burst forth on Atopia with his pssi world, splintered people and proxxis. Not only does he build a rich world, clearly tied to the possible, but he fleshes out the impact of this world on people (and people on the world). Truly amazing, well explored world
- Relationships: The relationships developed between the characters, the way their storylines intermingle and the intimacy of experience for the “pssi kids” who group up on a world of seemingly endless possibilities was staggering. Mr. Mather brilliantly explores, through narrative, how the changing world changes relationships yet how our character impacts those new relationships in old ways.
- Overlapping vignettes: Telling a story from a point of view, then switch the perspective is nothing new; weaving those switches into the nature of the world created and getting a glimpse of the splintered life the characters live is new and brilliant. Changing the pacing of the switches and the amount of overlap as the story draws to a conclusion is genius. .
- Narrative: With all of the new, cool world and genius moves, it still comes down to storytelling – Mr. Mather is a consummate story-teller.
- Characters: Really cool, diverse cast of characters. It is another sign of Mr. Mather’s capabilities that he can write from so empathetically from so many starkly different points of view is astounding. It was an equally brilliant move to have the audio version use multiple cast members to handle these diverse characters
What was I less fond of?
– Olympia Onassis: Actually the words loathe, hate or abhor all come to mind. I really can’t stand the woman.
As I often do, I went between the Kindle and the Audible versions of the book. As I indicated above, the narration was brilliant (Olympia’s narration a little too brilliant) and all of this incredible voice talent was used well. Unlike some multi-cast books, these narrators primarily took on a character but voiced everyone in the vignette presented from their character’s point of view. A challenge indeed and I must, therefore, commend Mel Foster for keeping it all together.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you. If you happened to be like me and do not care for Olympia, push on. It’s worth it.