Remotely Unplugged by Andrea Perno
Building upon today’s obsession with technological advancement and the ubiquity of personal computerized devices while playing into society’s underlying fears about the potentially dark ramifications of this tech-addiction, Andrea Perno’s Remotely Unplugged presents us with a vision of a society that has become entirely dependent upon and connected to its technologies. It is a world where every human has a chip implanted into their head, plugging them directly into the omnipresent Civilnet – in addition to allowing a user’s brain immediate access to desired information, Civilnet controls all functions of society and provides chip-wearers with a feed of constant unsolicited advice and data, aimed at enforcing good behavior and fostering a peaceful society. In the midst of this cold domination, Sarah finds herself impulsively craving change and rebelling against the status quo. To remedy Sarah’s increasingly violent and unstable attitude of nonconformity, she is flown to a remote mountain lodge outside of Civilnet’s reach to participate in an unplugging from the grid. Sarah is told that she is going on a peaceful spa retreat that will help her mind to reset and facilitate her reintegration into society. However, Sarah will soon find herself in a nightmare of anxiety and torment, as she discovers more about the true nature of Civilnet and her role within it.
What at first promises to be a gritty and philosophical science-fiction adventure quickly transforms into more of a story of raw survivalism as Sarah fights for the truth and her own life out in the wilderness across a series of cat-and-mouse chamber pieces. Although some readers might find that this results in one story getting lost inside of the other, it does create an interesting and unusual sort of dual narrative that is bolstered by Perno’s clear and precise writing, including sturdy descriptions that largely eschew lofty flourishes in favor of a frank, direct, and believably conversational first-person narration. Like Sarah, we are thrown into a world without understanding it well and we piece reality together bit-by-bit as it comes to us. This may leave some readers wishing for a broader and more crystalized vision of a technological dystopia, while, on the other hand, the instances of memory-altering reprogramming that Sarah endures ensures that the reader is often several steps ahead of the hero, especially toward the beginning. In particular, the psychopathic nature of one of the key characters is revealed to the reader far earlier than to Sarah. While this might diffuse some of the tension, the novel is engrossing and exciting overall, brimming with a delicious and brutal darkness. This includes plenty of depictions of emotional and physical abuse, even rape, and more sensitive and impatient readers might wonder how much of this is really necessary to progress the narrative. If some find that the survivalist tale is harrowing and overlong, Remotely Unplugged delivers a powerful and chilling conclusion that ties everything together while delivering more than one thrilling twist, uniting the disparate narrative realms into a novel that feels as gripping as it does fresh.
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