The Escapist - cybercrime, hackery and sex
It is through this black humour and sociological satire that the book really shines. Morris has the power to take modern concepts and show their ridiculousness by taking them to futuristic extremes. When people in the world stop caring about each other, one message goes, characters are able to parade hostages at gunpoint through buildings without anyone batting an eyelid. The parallel with today's world is powerful, at times.
One of the selling points of the book must be that Morris is a real-life technology expert writing about futuristic technology. There are some moments of utter geekdom, such as when a Microsoft-powered robotic waiter takes three goes to get an order right, or when a server cluster, sitting idly, spends its time running a programme to search for alien life. There are some neat ideas for viable future technology, such as presentation slides triggered by pre-programmed voice cues. Complementing the black humour, there are some utterly outrageous gizmos that are little more than plot devices, but perhaps none the worse-off for it.
Morris has obviously spent a lot of time relating his philosophy PhD to his love of technology, because my favourite aspect of the book is the subtextual discussion of the distinction between humans and computers. Rather than titles, each chapter is preceded with a thought about the philosophy of life, thoughts which are often insightful and provoking, providing the reader with a different context in which to think about everyday occurrences. Here's a couple to give you an idea:
"One of the differences between a living organism and a machine is that living beings are unpredictable. If we ever come to understand the organic as well as we understand machines, perhaps we'd discover that organisms were just complicated mechanisms all along. Or maybe we'd realise that machines behaving unpredictably could be showing signs of life."
"Now that so much of human activity is dictated by databases, you can change the course of history by altering a few entries in a file or two. The whole of human life rests upon trusting information from accredited sources., and a small amount of falsified data can trigger any action you want."
Gives a new context to the 15-minute claim, doesn't it?
Yes, but is it any good?
Perhaps it is this abundance of competing, complimentary and contradictory themes running through the book that gives the book its slightly schizophrenic charm. Even if the balance is sometimes off, attempting to juggle humour with mystery with erotica with social satire with religious extremism and the philosophy of existence is not an easy task, and Morris manages to communicate a lot of feeling, information and commentary in the book's 165 pages. In fact, you may find the need, as I did, to go back over some paragraphs in the book two or three times, just to make sure you've assimilated all the information therein. Rest assured that, as far as I can tell, this is perfectly normal.
Is The Escapist for you? It's difficult not to like a book that packs in all of your favourite features. If you don't like sex, or violence, or technology, or black humour, you won't really enjoy the book (and what are you doing reading el Reg?). If you do, and you can look past the book's few shortcomings, you'll spend several enjoyable evenings following the improbable adventures of Bentley and his crazed harem of co-stars, and you'll have some interesting food for thought by the time you reach the end, too.
ISBN: 1-905290-05-5 £7.99