I’ve had the great privilege of getting to read Richard MacManus‘ first foray into science fiction. His years as a tech journalist seem to give him the ability to introduce us to an incredibly believable world that’s not too far off in Presence.
Presence is comfortably in several categories in my mental taxonomy of stories – a bit noir, mystery, near-future sci-fi, young-adult – but it’s most interesting in its quality of curiosity.
Sure, there’s future tech, and plenty of predictions built into the story. It’s set in a world that heavily mixes the virtual and digital with reality. But, this isn’t technobabble or prognostication. Instead, Presence tells a very human story, while facing issues that are very real to us and our relationship with technology.
Of course, it sits alongside Ready Player One thematically through its virtual reality. But, it’s not a book that wears a dystopian label in my mind. It questions how we develop socially among ubiquitous technology, and its the questioning I like most. Throughout the story, we’re looking at big themes of security and surveillance, corporate greed, and the issue of who we can become when reality becomes hazy. But, instead of thumping down a set of answers through pure, unchecked destruction and fear (à la Ray Bradbury), I’m feeling more like someone is being curious about how we are recreating our world digitally, right now.
Richard’s light-touch with his technology makes it easy to slip into his world. You don’t have to work hard to imagine things working the way they do here, it’s almost intuitive. And that’s the setting which lets us imagine further, and ask our own questions about how our reliance on interconnectedness and continual exposure to technology could continue to change our social lives, our politics, and our own emotions.
Presence, for me, feels like an introduction. It’s brief, and extremely easy to read, but it’s also a bit moreish. I believe it’s aimed at a young-adult audience, and (though I’m not sure I qualify looking back from my 30s ;)), I think it works well here. It’s neither overcomplicated, nor patronising. But, I want to see where else Richard can go as we question our own security – and safety – around rapidly-developing technology.