"Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all in this future."
Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.
She is sixteen years old.
Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost, Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive supercomputer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.
Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.
What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, death, and everything they thought they really believed.
This book was hit-and-miss on the score sheet. For one thing, David Meredith needs to find a better editor. I have read fanfictions with neater punctuation. (May I recommend Jeff Ford, the editor for this blog. He specializes in speculative fiction.)
Grammar aside, this was a very interesting story. A corporation called Elysian Industries finds a way to “save” a person’s consciousness (kind of like Altered Carbon, which I reviewed a few weeks ago), and download on a digital space that’s basically artificial Heaven, called Aaru. They then start advertising it to make a profit. Thirteen-year-old Koren becomes Aaru’s main spokesperson after her sister Rose physically dies of cancer but is digitally saved in Aaru.
What I really appreciate about the story is its focus on Koren and Rose. You guys have heard me complain about the lack of proper roles for girls and women in speculative fiction for a long time, and while both Koren and Rose each have a (frankly unnecessary) romantic interest, the focus is on their relationship as sisters and the greater issues of their lives.
Of the two, Koren’s story is far more interesting, with Rose spending the majority of her time in Aaru and having little to no real conflict until at least three quarters through the story. Although considering the fact that she spends a hundred pages in literal heaven, Meredith does a great job of ramping up dread and tension, of this feeling that something’s not quite right with Rose and Aaru.
Meanwhile, something is definitely not right with Koren. She becomes a highly sexualized child star, complete with zero privacy, tons of stress, and a crazy stalker. While her (living) family reaps the rewards of fame and fortune, their personal lives take a sharp downward turn. Even worse, and what I found to be one of the creepiest aspects of the whole thing, is that Koren’s parents sign a contract that allows Elysian Industries to put hidden cameras all over Koren’s house, including her bedroom, and they do this without her consent or knowledge. It’s just gross.
In the bigger picture, the world is caught in a moral dilemma of digital immortality. What happens if a bad person gets into Aaru? Who decides who is “good and righteous”? If it’s not natural, is it not right? Et cetera. What’s interesting is that the ultra-religious groups (unsurprisingly) reject Aaru as going against God’s will, and yet Rose and Koren’s mother, who is as religious as it gets, embraces it. So it’s not okay until your child dies and needs Aaru to “live.”
There are a couple of issues that bug me about Aaru. The biggest is that the climax of the story is anti-climactic. Meredith spends the whole book building up this subtle sense of dread, of showing us Koren’s naivete and the insanity of her stalker. But when it gets to the point where these players meet, it’s very rushed. It’s almost as if Meredith ran out of patience while writing one of the most important scenes in the book.
The other, more troubling problem I have is Koren’s attempted rape by her teen crush: it’s never acknowledged. He manipulates and comes inches away from assaulting her, is stopped only by the convenient timing of Koren’s father, and yet within a few chapters it’s like nothing happened. Koren doesn’t bring it up or think about it, and her crush never apologizes for it. Koren is in fact far more worried about her father being drunk and souring her crush’s opinion of her than the fact that she narrowly avoided being raped.
That is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set. When a teen girl reads this, she’s going to assume that her boyfriend ignoring her fear, intoxication, and “no” is normal and acceptable. When a teen boy reads this, he’s going to assume that pushing for sex without any kind of consent is no big deal, that she might even be grateful for it.
The good news is this is the first book of a series (The Aaru Cycle), which means Meredith is going to have multiple opportunities to address these loose ends. With any luck, the next book will include Koren smacking her ex-crush upside the head for his appalling behavior. Having read his earlier novel The Reflections of Queen Snow White--which wasn’t terrible, but had its own host of issues--I can say that David Meredith is definitely improving as a writer. This series has potential.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!