Mania Grade: B
2 Comments | Add
Rate & Share:
- Author: Stephen Baker
- Publisher: Tor Publishing
- Book Genre: Science Fiction
- Format: Hardback, 304 pages
Book Review: The Boost
Entertaining and thought provoking
By Chuck Francisco
May 14, 2014
The Boost by Stephen Baker
© Tor Publishing
The opening salvo from Tor Publishing through the first part of 2014 has been tremendous on the near future science fiction front. They've unloaded a fearsome broadside of speculative unease to tear through the sails of comfort and certainty. The battle for control of the human mind won't be waged against oppressive aliens via telepathic mind control, but perhaps instead against fascist governments via shiny new gadgets which people willingly implant. This seems to be the troubling next step humanity is destined to take once we look beyond Google Glass. From a narrative standpoint there would need to be a compelling spark to set off the chain of events leading to a world of implanted humans. Author Stephen Baker strikes that match with his new novel The Boost, postulating that society is truly only one economic shove off the cliff of supplication.
In Baker's world of The Boost people are "capped", having had a gadget attached to their brain which allows the combined functionality of the internet, banking and payment, phone and text messaging, and GPS. It becomes much more than a glorified smart phone, also recording all of the subject's life, and offering a robust number of apps which do everything from reflavoring food to laying a more favorable texture over reality itself. All societal activity has one foot in the boost, which means that nothing unsavory about authority is available to the people. Effectively the entire world population lives within a government controlled augmented reality. Everyone except for those few who are uncapped (the "wild"), the majority of whom live in Juarez.
Our hero is Ralf, a high level programmer working on the boost's early update. Less than two weeks before the update goes live to all Americans, he notices that the privacy "gates", which keep the government from seeing someone's personal thoughts, are left conspicuously open (in the same way that all of China's capped boosts are programmed). But when he attempts to bring this mistake to the attention of his superiors, he's abducted and has his boost surgically removed. Now he's on the run without the aid of a tool he's utilized as a crutch for nearly his entire life. He has no way to pay for anything, no way to contact anyone, and no rights as a citizen without his boost. The clock is ticking on the death of the last bastion of freedom for ordinary people, and only Ralf knows about the looming danger. Can he stop it?
The Herculean strength of The Boost radiates from author Stephen Baker's techno-prophetic wizard hands, which weave a frighteningly believe future society where the boogie man of distracted driving becomes the genocidal monster of distracted everything. Baker spent ten years as the senior technology writer at Business Week, and draws heavily on emerging technological trends to embellish the now into the near feature with an shocking degree of believability. Into the mix he tosses a handful of likable yet flawed characters, setting them up against an uncaring system and dramatically long odds. With the looming countrywide update ever present in the background as a world ending shot clock, the narrative sprints back and forth down the court with more gusto than Snake Plisskin could muster in Escape from LA (and The Boost succeeds just as dramatically as Kurt Russell's full court buzzer beater).
Tor has put forth several solid near future works which predict a society that becomes fundamentally flawed by where our obsession with technology may take us. It's a fantastic time to be a William Gibson fan, as several of these books entertain and frighten in the proportions which that legendary author did (and still does). The Boost is an entertaining ride, an unsettling disclaimer, a fascinating prediction, and engaging thought piece all rolled into one. It challenges audiences in a similar way to the show Continuum, though both go about it in distinctly unique ways.
The Boost by Stephen Baker is releases May 20th from Tor Books for $24.99. Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.