Published: 2020 | Pages: 380 | Genre: Science Fiction
Welcome to a world obsessed with the Internet. That’s real, that’s the present, that’s our world. But what happens to this hyperconnected world in the future? What happens when our obsession with other people’s lives on social media takes on dystopian proportions? What happens when relationships in real life break down to be replaced by followers who are obsessed with celebrities?
Followers, Megan Angelo’s debut novel gives us answers to these pertinent questions, and a lot more fodder for thought.
The story of Followers moves between two timelines – one is set in 2015/16 and the other in 2051. We meet three women in these timelines. First, there’s Orla, an aspiring novelist who pays her bills by writing click-bait articles on the lives of celebrities and influencers on Lady-ish.com. Then there’s her new roommate, Floss, who is an enigma and also, weird. Floss is a wannabe influencer who dreams of becoming a celebrity with tens of hundreds of followers who would be obsessed with her. They are an unlikely pair and yet from living in proximity to each other, a funny and deadly combination emerges between the two. Together they come up with an idea on how they can leverage each other to get what they want. It is ingenious and seems easy enough to implement. Orla will launch Floss into a celebrity-like status by creating hype around her personal brand; Floss gets the much-craved for attention and Orla’s editor stays happy with the kind of intricately detailed articles Orla can churn out for the publication about a new celebrity.
The third woman in the story is Marlow, who is a product of a Big-Brother like society in 2051. Marlow lives in a government-run city called the Constellation, where everyone is constantly on camera and is viewed live by audiences. The only bit of privacy Marlow and others like her ever have is when they are in the bathroom or get their designated breaks. Marlow’s contract makes it clear that she is neither to acknowledge the audience nor the camera filming her, even though she is aware of their presence 24×7. Devices are embedded in the wrist of these celebrities and they can directly access the internet with their minds alone. If this starts to feel disturbing it should because this choreographed life of the future is a product of people’s obsession with the lives of others, their need for instant gratification and the lure of watching the private lives of public celebrities.
The storylines begin to converge after Marlow discovers surprising information about her parentage and realizes that her whole family history may have been a lie. She decides to pursue the truth which means getting out of the “made-up” world and discovering herself in the real world – away from her followers, away from the internet, away from everything she has believed all her life to be real.
Followers may be classified as a science fiction novel but it is also an insightful critique of our contemporary society and culture. For one, it explores the very real hazards of living in and craving a constantly connected world. By being a follower we shape the lives of the influencers. By craving followers, we may be led to make some really dark choices. The other scary bit is the impact this may have in the future – will governments be able to manipulate us for the sake of our own security? Will corporations start taking advantage of our vulnerabilities, as they do with Marlow and exploit her to promote their products, in turn elevating her celebrity status? All of this is just like a Black Mirror episode – thrilling and disturbing and a possibility that is not very far fetched.
The social media craze we see today may very well lead to an uncontrollable madness. This is where a surprising twist enters into the tale – The Spill – a technological disaster that strikes the hyperconnected world. It ends up delivering personal (and I mean very, very personal information) that people leave as digital footprints, into the wrong hands, who hijack, not just the electronic devices but also the minds of people and end up disabling the society in unimaginable ways.
What I enjoyed so much about this book is that it not just creates a possible dark future on a macroscopic level. It also successfully manages to look at people by intimately analyzing the nature of friendships, the concept of belonging and the consequences of loneliness. While Orla and Floss’s scheme elevates their brand, it also sparks unwanted attention and leads to a rivalry between the two gal pals. Floss is like a sponge – the kind that sucks all the energy out of the room and leaves you feeling exhausted. And yet, Orla needs her, maybe even craves her, for who else is there to cure her loneliness? Theirs may be a weird friendship, but it is a friendship all the same.
As a reader this makes you introspect. What is our worth really? How much do we identify ourselves with our online persona and to what extent does that influence our behavior in real life? And what can be the possible implications of our actions in the future? What is the effect of social media on our relationships – both real and imagined ones? In the end, what we really crave is a genuine human connection – whether we are seeking it online or in the actual world.
For those who are wondering what Angelo is writing next, here is what she said in an interview given to Mashable,
“I’m working on two new books right now, which works out well, since on any given day one of them seems like absolute garbage to me. I trade off. One is about three moms at a barre studio who learn that it’s a front for something more mysterious, and they’re enlisted in this underground force.
The other is about two lifelong best friends who, in high school, kind of ruined their third friend’s life after they thought she pulled a reverse Catfish on them — allegedly made up a person and pretended to be chatting with her on AOL all the time, that kind of thing, because it’s set in 1999. Twenty years later, the person these girls swore wasn’t real walks into their life, and they have to reckon with what they did to their friend and figure out who this woman actually is.”Mashable
(Exciting! Can’t wait to see these books in print!)
Followers is nothing short of fascinating. It poses a relevant question, one not often explored – what are the emotional implications of our changing culture and the way technology is becoming all-encompassing in our lives? This is one of the most original books I have read in a long time. It is a tale of caution and yet, one of hope. Angelo’s character arcs and storyline are so engaging that they feel like the work of a highly seasoned writer, who not only has a story to tell but actually delves into people’s psychology – their motivations, their deep-seated insecurities and the things they take for granted – to unravel a possible future that is waiting for us. Mix that up with some unexpected twists that you won’t be anticipating and you have the recipe for a novel that is easily going to be one the best books released in 2020!