The Synapse Sequence – Book Review

In a future London, humans are watched over by AIs and served by bots. But now that justice and jobs are meted out by algorithm, inequality blooms, and protest is brutally silenced.

Anna Glover may be the most hated woman in the troubled city – the media’s scapegoat for an unpopular war. Now she hides from the public eye, investigating neglected cases by using the mind-invading technology of the synapse sequencer to enter witnesses’ memories. When a PI brings her a new high-stakes case, Anna sees a chance for atonement. But soon she is drawn into a plot that threatens to upend her hard-won anonymity and put everyone in danger – even those she hopes to save.

Publisher: Titan Books
Author: Daniel Godfrey
Pages: 384

Science-fiction is a genre that is oftentimes used to comment upon issues faced by society at the time of its production. Star Trek showed a future where the whole world had come together at a time when the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement were in full swing; Godzilla was about the horrors of nuclear war and the fear of those weapons; and The Synapse Sequence tells a story about the reliance on automated industry and the effect that it can have upon the population.

In a world where people seem to be in constant fear of losing their livelihoods, whether to cheaper labour or being replaced by machines and computers, The Synapse Sequence feels like a book that speaks to many of these fears and worries. It may not be the central drive of the book, but it’s the world that the characters inhabit, and one that doesn’t feel too far away from a potential real future.

At its core though, The Synapse Sequence is a mystery story, one that has more layers and twists than the reader is initially led to believe, and that plays out in ways that you’re not likely to expect.

The book centres on Anna Glover, a former air crash investigator who now works for a firm attempting to create artificial realities drawn from people’s memories. These simulations are initially being used for recreation and entertainment, but Anna is exploring whether they can be used to help investigate crimes through the memories of witnesses. At first it feels like very familiar territory, with people going inside artificial environments very reminiscent of The Matrix, or the holo-decks from Star Trek.

The Synapse Sequence quickly shows how different it is, however, using the concept of reality built from memory to set out some interesting and unique rules for its world, before turning these on their head as Anna and the reader find themselves in dangerous new territory.

Anna and her firm are hired by a private investigator to help look into a disappearance that the police aren’t interested in, mainly because the police is now run by AIs, and soon finds herself part of a bigger mystery, and possible conspiracy. Travelling into the memories of coma patient N’Golo, she enters a race against time to find the answers they need to solve the case.

Interspersed within this central mystery story are flashes forward in time to Anna as an old woman, living in a nursing home in the final years of her life. Here she recounts the story of her time as an air crash investigator to a young student, who is looking deeper into her final investigation in Tanzania, one in which her findings led to a bloody war.

These sections shift in both tone and perspective from the rest of the book, being told by Anna in the first person, whereas the rest of the book is written from a third person point of view. Whilst these sections at first appear to have only been included to provide deeper insight into Anna and the demons of her past, there’s more to them that plays into the main story.

The world of The Synapse Sequence is a grim one, with the population unhappy and unable to work. It feels like an England where progress is being made to the detriment of the individual, where people are placed on UI (Universal Income) so that the elite can stay on top whilst robots and AIs take over the jobs. As mentioned earlier, this doesn’t feel like a future too far removed from the world we live in now. Add into this the constant monitoring via computers and social media, and it feels very relevant.

Daniel Godfrey has managed to craft an entertaining story that has a very flawed and human heroine, a woman who is haunted by her past for having simply told the truth and done the right thing. It’s a story about her attempt at redemption, both from her own demons and in the eyes of the public. But it’s also a mystery story that manages to keep you guessing, and will end in a way that you’ll not see coming. A wonderful and engaging read.

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