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Breach (SF) - Eliot Peper ****

There are two sides to Breach - one excellent, the other so-so. We meet the so-so side first. This is the story of Emma Kim, aka Pixie, who has spent the last ten years or so as a fighter in a illicit fight club, risking death, apparently because she wants to die (yet somehow avoiding it for so long). This plunges us in with some action, certainly, but lacks any significant depth. However, the other side of the book is the story of Commonwealth, a former startup company now a sovereign state, that has subverted politics and nationality, pretty much taking over the world. This aspect is genuinely engaging.

What Eliot Peper has done is project into the future a combination of the internet and social media, known as ‘the feed’, and explored its implications for society. It has already done away with national borders and currencies. Now, one of its board members is suggesting turning its subscription into a progressive, redistributive wealth tax. And the ultra-rich don’t like it.

Though there are elements of the way the business aspect is handled that are a little naive, it still is fascinating and thought-provoking, particularly with the consideration of how something set up as a company that has gained too much power could be made more democratic.

The problem with Emma is not so much her part in the overall story - she turns out to have deep connections with the high level players in Commonwealth -  but rather the justification for her fight club life. This seems to have based on having possibly let down her friends once. It is just such an extreme over-reaction, that it doesn’t work as narrative. But provided the reader can get over this irritation, it doesn’t get in the way of the book as a whole.

Although technically the third in a series, I haven’t read the other two, and this book works perfectly well without having done so. I'm distinctly inclined to go back and read the first two titles, which focus on two other of the key players in Commonwealth. Breach is quite short and well worth giving a go - just don’t give up if the opening fight club scene puts you off (or the author's clear enthusiasm for hip-hop) - things do get better. This book demands comparison with The Circle - although Eggars' bestseller is better structured as a book, its technology challenge to society is not as well thought-out as Peper's Commonwealth. Worth taking a look.

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Review by Brian Clegg 


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