Connect by Julian Gough

Connect Cover

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date – 8 May 2018

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For those looking for a darkly complex and intense techno-thriller, look no further than Connect by Julian Gough, a unique novel that also critiques future trends and humanity’s increasing reliance on technology.

In the very near future, computer technology has been incorporated into nearly everything, linking the world and helping with all aspects of day to day life.  In Nevada, awkward young teen Colt is a talented hacker living with his mother, Naomi.  Seeking to create a perfect replication of the real world in virtual space, Colt has also developed a dangerous fascination with his mother’s biotech research.

When Colt submits his mother’s revolutionary work to a biotech conference, Naomi comes to the attention of the government, including Colt’s father, a high-ranking spook, Ryan, concerned with its potential implications.  However, Colt has also taken the opportunity to inject himself with the experimental biotech, turning himself into something new: a hybrid of man and technology.  Colt and Naomi are soon considered to be threats to the government, and Ryan activates an experimental defence network to hunt them down.  Colt and Naomi are forced to go on the run and must try to avoid a barrage of killer drones programmed to target and kill them at any cost.  Will Colt’s new abilities be enough to overcome the computer intelligence seeking them, or will the future of technology be changed forever?

Connect is an inspired new novel from Gough which represents a different direction from his previous writings.  Connect is a fascinating read and an interesting techno-thriller that examines the future of technology, creates a compelling dialogue and makes significant use of some excellent narrative elements.

The main story is an absorbing thriller that pits the protagonists against some sizeable opponents and threats.  One of their main opponents is an advanced and experimental computer program that is connected to every piece of technology in the country.  As a result, the protagonists are forced to find ways to avoid the overwhelming surveillance hunting them. Not only must they avoid pursuit from teaching devices and video cameras but they must also find a way to go low tech in a society that has computers connected to everything.  There are some great scenes where the characters are forced to out-think drones hunting them and try to find ways around the tracking programs that determine when and where to attack.  All of these play wonderfully into the book’s thriller storyline, and there is some real excitement when the protagonists encounter and attempt to counter these technological threats.

Gough spends a significant amount of Connect examining the future of technology and ends up offering some significant commentary on our reliance on technology and its potential influence on us.  The story is set in the immediate future, where everything is controlled by computers and certain things common in our current world no longer exist.  For example, most cars are self-driven, everything has become exceedingly automated and cash has become nearly obsolete.  In other words, it is a picture of how our world is likely to turn out in the next few years, based on current advances in technology.  Gough scrutinises how this over-reliance on technology could be detrimental to humanity, and how it could be turned against us by hackers and governments.  There is also an examination of the automation of a nation’s defence and security as an advanced security program is activated to hunt down the protagonists.  The debate around such a program is very in-depth, and the readers will be fascinated by some of the arguments presented.  Naturally, the program starts getting out of hand as it is manipulated into seeing the protagonists as a bigger threat than they are and it starts to dramatically escalate its attempts to destroy its targets.  This thought-provoking discussion and examination of the future of technology is a key part of Connect and will prove to be one of the most intriguing parts of the book for some thoughtful readers.

One of the most noticeable parts of the book is the unusual format that Gough has chosen to implement throughout his book.  The story is broken up into 12 chapters, and then further broken down into 149 sub-chapters, and is formatted in a way that vaguely reminded me of code within a computer program.  The inclusion of such a visually distinctive writing format does not break up the flow of the story, nor does it affect the reader’s ability to follow the story.  It does, however, dramatically change towards the end of the book in a way that ties in nicely with some of the significant plot elements occurring during this part of the book.  Gough has also chosen to include a number of relevant quotes at the start of each of the chapters.  I personally enjoyed reading those and connecting them to the plot of the upcoming chapter, and may prove to be more amusing to those of a more computer or technical mindset than myself.  Overall, the consistent use of this unique format and the attention grabbing quotes work well with the technology-centric plot and are a clever addition by Gough.

The point of view of Connect is mostly shared between the book’s protagonists, Colt and Naomi, although the main human antagonist, Ryan, also features in a few of the book’s chapters.  These separate viewpoints offer different subjects to the reader, and Gough has done a fantastic job of presenting unique content for both of his protagonists.  The scenes that follow Colt are a stimulating experience, allowing the reader a real sense of Colt’s social awkwardness and the disconnectedness he feels with the real world, especially when he focuses on his recreation of the real world in his virtual reality.  This virtual world appears in quite a number of scenes and plays a pivotal role in the end of the plot, and it is curious to watch Colt attempt to live most of his life within this world.  The characterisation of Colt shifts subtly after he injects himself with the experimental biotech and he starts to change.  It is interesting to watch his character change and mature after this point, especially as he attempts to initiate a very awkward romance with another young hacker.  The interactions he has with technology after this point, including with the advanced defence program hunting him, are some great scenes, especially as he creates and utilises some clever work-arounds to manipulate the computer networks to his advantage.

The scenes that feature Naomi’s perspective are significantly different, representing a noticeable change of pace for the reader.  Naomi is a very damaged person who presents herself in very different way to her socially awkward son.  Gough has made sure to communicate her multiple neuroses and issues to the reader, which adds a lot of drama to the story as she must attempt to save her son whilst trying not to get overwhelmed.  Like her son, she also undergoes substantial character development throughout the story, and the reader will enjoy watching her work towards a better relationship with her son.  In addition to this excellent piece of character work, the chapters featuring Naomi as the focal point are generally a lot darker and more adult.  For example, one of these sub-chapters features one of the most memorable and disturbing death scenes that I’ve ever read.

Connect is deep thriller that revels in its use of technological elements to create a distinctive and eccentric story.  Julian Gough’s discussion and consideration of a technologically advanced future and the problems this could create is compelling and thought-provoking, and his great use of characters and formatting elements turns this into one of the most unique pieces of literature you are likely to read this the year.

My Rating:

Four stars

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