Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Passengers

The Passengers - John Marrs
Berkley Publishing
352 Pages

We are in a world that is rapidly changing. Technological advances mean more and more of our daily lives are controlled autonomously. If you have a NEST or Alexa or something of the like, you’re well on the way to letting machines do your thinking for you. And now self-driving cars are rearing their ugly heads to trap us into even more reliance on Skynet. John Marrs, with The Passengers explores our over-reliance on this technology as well as our obsession with social media, tangled into a thrilling mystery.

In the near future, eight people set out on a seemingly normal day, setting out in their respective self-driving cars. Little do they realize that their lives are about to be abruptly changed. The eight people in these cars have no apparent connection to each other besides carrying secrets that may bring their character into question. Without knowing it at first, they are virtually kidnapped, locked in their vehicles, and are captives to a hacker.

Hidden cameras broadcast the trapped passengers to the world like a live streamed reality show. Meanwhile, a jury convened to investigate prior car accidents finds themselves questioning the whole process and pulled into the debate around the hacked cars and their passengers. Who will live? Who will die? The mysterious hacker in control of the vehicles is going to make the jury decide the fates of each of the passengers.

When the jury initially refuses to play along with the diabolical plan, the hacker destroys one of the cars by remote bomb, killing the passenger inside. At the end of the “game” only one of the passengers should remain alive while the others will die in a fiery collision as all their routes converge. The company that guides all the self driving cars has no control over any of them, much to the chagrin of the supervisor.

Each of the passengers gets solo attention from the author through the questioning by the hacker and the jurors. We learn the intimate secrets of each of the passengers. As we learn a little bit more about each of the passengers, the reader finds he or she likes them just a little less. The passengers start out as innocent victims, but as time goes on and their stories come out, the facade of innocence is stripped away. The same goes for some of the jurors, especially Libby, who may be the only one with a heart among all the characters. Even with her own demons haunting her.

This book was almost impossible to put down. The intriguing scenario of over-reliance on autonomy mixed with an obsession with social media brings to the page an investigation of the human spirit in our technological times. In the end, the passengers and jurors need to focus on their humanity to overcome the dilemma faced. 

The reality made by John Marrs is terrifying, especially as we give up more and more of our control to artificial intelligence. Our collective complacency could lead to allowing more people with nefarious thoughts taking over. Each time I think of Alexa or the NEST, I cannot help but think of the Cylon uprising from Battlestar Galactica. I am no Luddite, but giving up control to a machine can be a little daunting.

Marrs has played upon those fears very well. The Passengers is what could happen if we let computers run everything. There are hackers everywhere and people looking to make money off from unsuspecting victims. With our economics moving only into the digital world and now the control of our homes and cars, we could be held hostage through no fault of our own. It is a scary world into which we are heading, and this book feels like a reminder that we need to pace ourselves and not lose sight of our humanity.

Craig Bacon abhors self-driving cars. He mostly abhors cars driven by humans, too. Can we go all Star Trek with a transporter??