If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I like to fill my time with reading. To me, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a café, drinking a cup of chai tea and reading a book. Or if I’m not at a café, my bed and a cup of Tesco’s Apple Cinnamon Tea (if you haven’t tried it you’re missing out!) will do. Recently, I was contacted by David Meredith asking me if I was interested in reviewing his latest novel ‘Aaru’, a dystopian/utopian Young Adult fiction*. And of course I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I’d never say no to reading a book (or let’s say, almost never) but also because the story of the novel sounded incredibly intriguing and unless anything I’d ever heard before. But have a read of the synopsis yourself:
” …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 super computer 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, and death and everything they thought they really believed. “
So now onto the actual review. Aaru turned out to be the kind of book that still occupied my mind days after I’d finished reading it. Partly because what happened was very unexpected. The book starts with life from Rose’s perspective, a teenager diagnosed with terminal cancer. While her body is slowly dying, a scientist comes in and promises to save her – but not in a way anyone would ever expect. As said in the synopsis, her mind is ‘uploaded’ to a virtual paradise and she has the opportunity to communicate with her loved ones via screen. Whilst this concept sounds incredibly lucrative, it quickly becomes clear that this utopia has downsides and might not be the promised perfect world after all. Since it is an ‘afterlife’ created by humans, it is flawed by human errors as well as technical difficulties that allows others to interfere with the database. The wish to overcome the ultimate human fate – death – comes at a cost and leaves us with the question whether we would be willing to pay it. Although Aaru sounds like pure science fiction and humans are (yet) unable to artificially create an afterlife, this story confronts us with the impact of technology and the dangers of a data driven life. Plus the thought that such a concept might not be that fictional after all, given the quick rate of the development of technology. And even if it will never be possible to build such an artificial world as Aaru, who says that humans could not be deceived and convinced of the existence of an artificial afterlife? For centuries, humans have thematised the lure of immortality, whether in fiction or science, and have tried ways to become immortalised through written work or leaving their mark in some way. Needless to say, the idea of ‘tricking’ death would seem tempting to many – but as seen in the novel, cheating on nature always comes at a price. I also think that the idea of ‘uploading a mind’ is fascinating, especially in the context of the body mind debate – what exactly constitutes a mind? Is it really so little connected to our body that we can separate it and ‘upload’ it to a platform?
Aaru is a book full of contrasts – the contrast between life and death, between grief an joy, between a utopia and a dystopia in disguise, between joy and despair and between love and hate. Especially love plays an important part in this book – it is love for her sister that that drives Rose’s participation in the experiment of being saved through Aaru. It is love that makes Aaru seem like an utopia, a way of communicating with our deceased loved ones. This novel also contains the odd teenage love story although this is not the focus of the book – which I was glad about since I did not like the depiction of the love stories very much; they seemed quite immature and unrealistic, almost forced. But then they also conveyed an important message – to follow your heart and to just enjoy the now, no matter how uncertain the future seems to be. I would go into more detail but I believe I would give too much away, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Even though the love stories were displayed as too superficial for my liking, I really liked that the story was told from the perspective of two teenagers – Rose and her sister Koren. Whilst reading, I really felt with Koren and how she went from being a typical young girl to being catapulted into a world of fame, manipulation and money. Her naivety formed a stark contrast to the harsh reality of her new world and it was easy to identify with her and to feel her struggles – when I think of my 13 year old self I remember how confused I was about my role in this world and can only imagine how much more intense this feeling must be for Koren whose whole world has just been turned upside down. Another thing I loved about this book is style of writing – it is very detailed and entails a lot of imagery. But then, it is suitable for a very young audience. Another contrast that makes the dystopian features of Aaru appear even more frightening and that illustrates out how easily humans can be fooled into thinking they can outdo nature. All in all, Aaru is one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read and can only encourage you to read it yourself. x
Have you read Aaru? xx
*I received this novel as a gift; this post is not a sponsored post and all opinions are my own.