A single glance around a train carriage during the morning commute should be enough to convince even the most optimistic observer of the absolute tyranny of the screen in modern life. Where once there would have been books read and newspapers rustled, there is now to be found only the sad light of a multitude of mobile phones and personal devices into which every traveller is staring, caught in a state of something like active boredom, the willing victims of electronic mesmerism.
Julian Gough’s new novel, Connect, takes us a decade or so into the future, to a time when the scene described above has come to seem quaint. Screens have conquered practically all human interaction. The worlds that they contain are far more dynamic and engaging than the diversions of the quotidian realm ever were. Our hero is Colt, a near-autistic teenager who lives alone with his mother, Naomi, in the midst of the Nevada desert, under a sky thick with watchful drones. ‘Almost eighteen, and never been kissed’, Colt spends his life largely in thrall to an elaborate virtual reality, accessed via an immersive helmet and a ‘micromesh skinsuit’. To Colt, reality is known as ‘crapworld’, a disappointing, if necessary, adjunct to a far more fascinating kingdom.
Everything changes when he connects online with a young woman, a hacker nicknamed Snow Queen who is in reality a pizza deliverer called Sasha. She stirs up something mysterious within him. He yearns to be able to talk to her but discovers that he lacks the social skills. In