CTRL S by Andy Briggs

(7.3/10)

The future is a better place. Global warming is gone and the bees are back. To add to the joy, humans now have SPACE, a virtual-sensory universe where anyone – including Theo - can be almost anything they like for a few hours a day. However, it’s not long before criminals start exploiting SPACE, kidnapping people in the real world, harvesting their emotions, and selling their feelings to the rich and twisted. So when Theo’s mother disappears, it’s up to him and his friends to rescue her in the face of vPolice, AI Bots and anarchists. And it might just cost them their lives.

It’s easy to see why Andy Briggs has got so many TV credits to his name. Not only are his previous Hero.com and Villain.net book series so perfectly written for television they’re being adapted for the small screen, but his pace, wit and casual technical lingo in this new novel screams of a TV show waiting to happen. 

Our central character in CTRL+S is Theo: an average guy. He lives at home with his mum, has a solid group of friends and a job at a synthetic burger joint. Skipping college to earn money and help his mum, pay the bills mean he’s not as close to Baxter, Milton and Clemmie as he used to be, but some things don’t change, and his crush on Clemmie is still firmly in place. He’s a likeable guy, an easy character to connect with and Briggs does a great job of making him sympathetic, relatable and easy to root for.

Theo’s mum Ella is a mysterious character who, although working hard to provide for her son, clearly has a lot of secrets, and once she disappears, the novel really takes off. When Theo and his friends band together to find her, they discover she’s left a breadcrumb trail in the real and virtual worlds, not only leading them to her whereabouts, but also uncovering a world of pain and illegal activity that goes right to the top of the police and the government. 

Initially, CTRL+S is a pacey, futuristic detective read that sweeps you along with the team as they encounter stranger and more disturbing realisations about SPACE. Though action heavy, it’s not afraid to lean on the science in ‘science-fiction’ there’s a lot going on for the reader to immerse themselves in. That said, it slows a little after the initial burst, as the breadcrumb clues become rhythmic and much of the technical jargon is explained. 

Overall it’s a very enjoyable read that riffs strongly off Ready Player One, but with darker, more adult themes that feel scarily possible in this not unforeseeable version of the future.

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