AUTONOMY by JUDE HOUGHTON
HB, 462 pages, Kristell Ink
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Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.
In Jude Houghton’s bleak near-future SF thriller, the world is run by big business and workers are considered only for their value to the company. Human rights are a waste of resources. The rich live in apartments, amuse themselves by watching violent ball games, and pay no attention to the poor, who often live five families to a small trailer, working 14 hour shifts in the Batteries, plugged into a VR religion that promises rewards in the next life if they work hard in this one. Everyone knows their place in this rigid, stratified society. Until Balmoral Murraine, sold to the Battery at birth, her work a payment for her brother’s education. Her unique brain knows how to manipulate the systems that govern her life.
Pasco Eborgsen, born to the elite but never comfortable among them, is the nephew of the most powerful man in the Autonomy. When he meets Balmoral, a meeting that should never have happened, his life takes a dramatic turn. And between them, maybe Pasco and Balmoral can bring some sort of hope to the beleaguered citizens of the Autonomy…
Autonomy is a complicated book, with many interlacing plot strands, and the first few chapters describing Balmoral’s family life are almost unremittingly bleak. You really feel for Balmoral – she’s a character that it’s not easy to warm to, almost emotionless and eerily calm, but you do sympathise with her. Pasco is the heart of the book, likable, sometimes a bit hopeless, battered by fate but still hanging on to his morality is a world where morality has been sacrificed for profit.
The action is wide-ranging, from the bleakness of Battery life in Churin (which appears to be somewhere in China – names have been changed so the reader must try to work out roughly where the action is taking place) to the skyscrapers of the Elite and the sewers below them, where a renegade cell fights to bring down the Autonomy from beneath.
Autonomy is the kind of book that takes your breath away and leaves you thinking and taking a second look at the world around you. Perhaps we are not so far from the nightmare of the Autonomy? It’s a chilling, prophetic look at the future that leaves the reader unsettled, but not entirely without hope…