Echo Boy by Matt Haig

(9.0/10) An effortless read, highly recommended.

Book of the Year 2014 (see all)

Echo Boy by Nestlé Smarties Book Prize winner Matt Haig is a stand-alone science/speculative-fiction novel set exactly 100 years in the future. It offers a vision of what day-to-day life may be like in the next century, exploring the likely advancements in technology and artificial intelligence while telling a tale of love, loss, betrayal and corruption.

At the story’s centre is Audrey, whose father has taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she has to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. Into her world comes Daniel, an Enhanced Computerized Humanoid Organism (Echo) who has feelings for Audrey. feelings he was not designed to have and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he's determined to save her.

Before reading Echo Boy I realised something that I found very interesting. I had chosen to read the book not because its synopsis appealed (I didn't even read it before requesting a review copy from Netgalley) but simply because it was written by Matt Haig. Certain authors you trust and will read their work regardless of subject matter as you just feel safe in their hands, safe in the knowledge that whatever they write about, it will undoubtedly be engaging and very well written. The other authors that I also trust this much are Stephen King, David Gemmell, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula Le Guin, Robin Hobb and William Horwood. If these great storytellers write a new book, well, I want to read it. Matt Haig has reached an exalted status in my household. Shadow Forest and The Runaway Troll are firm family favourites and I also personally loved The Radleys. Add to this just how highly thought- and spoken-off he is in the book world (a few nights ago none other than Stephen Fry tweeted about The Humans, and how wonderful he thought it was) and you will understand why I wanted to read Echo Boy the second I saw it.

So as I began reading Echo Boy and it discovered it was perfectly suited to my own tastes. As a child I loved the Isaac Asimov robot stories and like many others hold Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Spielberg/Kubrick collaboration Artificial Intelligence amongst my favourite films. And Echo Boy has much in common with these, particularly in how it explores the concept of robots developing real human emotions.

I also particularly liked that Haig's vision of the future can be viewed as either utopian or dystopian, dependent on your own views on technological advancement. It is a world where humans live longer, with the life expectancy having at least doubled. It is now very much a small world as travelling from the UK to Canada takes only minutes and even if this seems like too much of an effort you can visit anywhere in the world virtually, thereby deeming it no longer necessary to even leave the house for holidays and family visits. You can even be schooled from home. To me this is utopian, which I'm not certain is an altogether healthy thing.

Echo Boy is an effortless read, which is precisely what I expected, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to ages young-adult and up who love futuristic, cautionary tales.

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