Model Citizens, Daniel Shand. book review

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(Private, £16.99)

THE expectations raised by Kirkcaldy-born Daniel Shand’s first two novels, Fallow and Crocodile, are beautifully rewarded by this surprisingly touching dystopian satire, set in a Scotland that, despite all its scientific advances, feels uncomfortably close to home. she.

In this alternate world, the state has been abolished, its responsibilities falling into the hands of commercial interests. The most powerful man in the world is now 90-year-old tech billionaire Kim Larson, who controls an overarching force called “the field” through which both electricity and data pass, making redundant fossil fuels – although the Earth is still on the brink of an irreversible climate crisis. People, meanwhile, are obsessed with their “stats,” the constantly updated online comments that determine their social status and allow how they conduct their work and social lives to be dictated by their scores.

Planet Shand also has a group that insists on living in the past – but rather than obsessing over Churchill, the Blitz and the British Empire, dropouts who band together in their south Edinburgh commune want to bring back the 1990s Calling themselves the 97ers, their battle cry is “Education, Education, Education” and they embrace names like Albarn, Mandelson and Creutzfeldt-Jakob, along with conspiracy theories that help the world make sense of them.

This Scotland is physically and mentally scarred by the destruction of Fife in a fiery disaster a few years earlier, when an ethylene plant exploded. One of the few survivors was Alastair Buchanan, who was a teenager at the time and is haunted by memories of the destruction of his hometown, the death of his parents, and his desperate race for safety.

Exactly a year ago, Alastair succumbed to the temptation to have his own “junior” made. The juniors are human copies, double androids programmed with the memories and personalities of their “seniors”, created essentially to be servants and facilitate the lives of their elders.

Never referred to by any other name than “the junior”, Alastair’s double is the book’s most immediately appealing character: vulnerable and self-aware; does not know how far he can push his explorations of his individuality without offending his elder, to whom, after all, he owes his existence. Having created a copy of himself to go to the office for him, and not hang around on the way home, Alastair has to work harder for the reader’s approval. But then his girlfriend breaks up with him, his stats plummet, and his dead dad — actually his dead dad’s younger brother, as the two are virtually indistinguishable — manifests as a ghostly presence in his apartment just as the 97ers pitch. an assault on Kim Larson, in which Alastair Buchanan’s caddy is to play an unwitting role.

There’s so much imagination at play here that it spills over into things that have no need for the plot to unfold, like the drone implanted with a baby’s AI and the hustle and bustle of the sea ​​between the western islands to make a single large land mass. But all of this rich world-building builds a framework for pointed questions about consciousness, identity, and death, played against the threat of an imminent, apocalyptic end to the comfortable, albeit pressured, existence whose characters of Shand depend.

Bringing to his novel the pace and relentless dynamism of a thriller, the metaphysical curiosity of the best science fiction and a few wisely planted loads of wry humor, Shand charts a steady course through Alastair’s need to come to terms with the trauma of his past and the emptiness of his acquisitive, status-obsessed present, and the junior’s exploration of himself and his responsibility to the man of whom he is essentially a copy. And his social commentary, as mentioned above, is always funny and focused.

ALASTAIR MABBOTT

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