As we as a species continue to advance and expand our understanding of ourselves and the world(s) around us, landmark breakthroughs in science and technology are often received with awe and praise. However the same achievements in medicine & more notably genetics can split the audience. One phrase comes up regularly. Are we “Playing God”, and more importantly, should we?
Keith Brooke’s lead protagonist Noah Barakh takes this.. well, a whole flight of steps further. And this time Technology is the means. He is the creator of an Artificial Heaven.
Noah is the Architect of The Accord. With his team, and government backing, they have created the opportunity for people to upload an “instance” of themselves into this virtual world which then activates when they pass away in the Real World. Retaining memories of their life up to their last upload date, The Accord becomes their new home, and their place of existence. The Real World is in a state of global unrest, and seems to deteriorate by the day. As The Accord nears completion, greater and greater numbers of refugees or “boat people” from third-world countries such as Africa attempt to cross the shores to Europe & upload themselves, and are housed in camps along the coastlines in a bid to deal with this huge influx of immigration.
Meanwhile, Noah is juggling. Desperately trying to complete this monumental task, he is also in the middle of a love affair with Priscilla Burnham, project representative & wife to Elector Jack Burnham, seemingly the UK’s most powerful and influential member of government. Except she doesn’t know this. Whilst building The Accord, he escapes into his own private copies of Heaven or “reality shards”, and seduces his love, acting out his own fantasy, away from his own wife. When he can take it no longer and attempts to make fantasy reality, success results in the deaths of both Priscilla (at the hands of her very jealous husband Jack) and himself.. only for both to awake in The Accord. Sadly for Noah, this new instance of Priscilla knows nothing of his love for her, and he is back to square one. But in The Accord, time is no longer a hurdle. He can wait.
Back in This World, Jack Burnham is fury incarnate. His sole objective soon becomes to destroy The Accord to prevent Barakh and Priscilla from continuing whatever sordid relationship they have in a land he cannot reach or see. However, in retaliation, as The Accord achieves “Full Consensus” it’s own security protocols deal with this threat to it’s survival. It’s not long before Jack finds himself waking up in virtual reality after an assassination. This presents him with a new opportunity. To chase them across The Accord wherever they may go, and do whatever it takes to destroy Barakh.
If this wasn’t enough, The Accord soon struggles to cope with the greater and greater number of people arriving, due to wars, pandemics and mass suicides. Not only must Barakh twist the protocols he has created to keep Jack at bay, he also has to find a way to stabilise Heaven before it literally cracks at the seams.. and loses his chance of happiness with Priscilla.
Brooke successfully manages to paint a picture of a technologically advanced yet ultimately troubled society, with many of our own society’s flaws and cracks blatantly evident. In addition, this “Heaven” in particular is moreso a virtual carbon copy of the world we already know. It is less ultimate fantasy, more a second reality. As it populates, it will still need laws, regulations and people to enforce them. For anyone can be granted access. It’s not just the good who go to Heaven. This becomes evident as the story gains a more twisted and disturbed character, whose actions ultimately threaten to ruin everything.. and each of the main protagonists.
The author switches regularly between first and third person as it moved from one character to the other (Noah is almost always in first person), but this doesn’t detract from the story. Rich content keeps you within the realms of the plot, and there are several key events which flip the world almost entirely on its head. I couldn’t decide whether I was routing for Noah or Priscilla throughout the book. To say Noah gets it rough is an understatement, not only at the hands of Jack, but also the less than scrupulous gangsters in the real world he does business with to acquire more space for Heaven to stabilise. Sometimes I was taken aback, but sometimes I just wanted to give him a sympathetic pat on the head. Priscilla however is stuck in the middle of this love-lorn battle, and is often at a total loss at what she should feel and who she should be. Jack just becomes totally consumed by his hatred of Noah, and loses sight of almost everything, which results in his total despairing (and uneasy) downfall..
In The Accord, Keith Brooke achieves a hyper-realistic & believable alternate reality with rich, detailed characters that move you, amuse you, shock you and urge you to keep reading.