Review: Shredded by Charles O’Donnell

★★★★★ Shredded by Charles O'Donnell

With a splash of Orwellian dystopia and a frighteningly timely plot, Shredded, the new novel from Charles O’Donnell, challenges the creature comforts we have come to love in our newly digitized world, and poses a terrifying question: What if privacy could be completely erased? In the not-so-distant future, the safety of anonymity has been eliminated, thanks to the introduction of the Worldstream, the near-perfect catalogue of every life and event available through the Internet of Things. Essentially, the Worldstream is social media, Big Brother and live-streaming all rolled into one, making anyone’s most intimate details vulnerable to invasion.

In the opening pages, readers are introduced to Grace, the main character of this compelling thriller, whose life has just been hacked and uploaded into the Worldstream – meaning that “stream riders” can step into her life and experience any moment, as though they are seeing it through her eyes. It is the ultimate invasion of privacy, like a leaked sex tape, except the tape is your entire life, open and unadulterated for anyone to see, particularly the most perverted denizens of the Internet.

Grace has plenty of things to hide from her past, including the salacious periods of her life after her son had been taken away from her. She had been a drug user, an alcoholic, and a sex addict, and while she has turned her life around in recent years, the details of her private life going viral causes her newly stable world to begin crashing down around her. Grace is a perfect heroine for this tale – far from perfect, but also unwilling to simply lie down and accept the inequalities life has foisted on her. She is bold and uncompromising, able to admit her mistakes, but also to take risks to change her life (and the world at large) for the better.

Taking the ultimate leap of faith, Grace considers unplugging from the Worldstream, despite it being “the foundation of our modern state of security and prosperity.” In a future where escaping from the full gray of RL (real life) only costs fifty cred, even at the cost of robbing an individual of their privacy, extreme measures must be taken, which is why Grace decides to employ the use of a Shredder. Separating from the Worldstream and joining the ranks of the Cloak would mean social isolation, and a permanent separation from the all-powerful and all-connected stream of global society, but the sacrifice is worth it for Grace to protect her future.

This fast-paced novel is defined by powerful characters, but even more so by eye-opening ideas. It seems as though modern society is hurtling towards this type of Big Brother oversight, and while this forecast may seem extreme, there are enough parallels between O’Donnell’s fantastical vision of the future and the present day to send a shiver up readers’ spines. The book grips you from the start by addressing tough questions about what this type of dystopian future poses, and measuring what your own response would be to your life being taken over, or invaded.

O’Donnell has the mind of an engineer, but the storytelling skills of a veteran writer. Driving these types of issues into the public eye, in the confines of an unpredictable and well-crafted plot, makes this book stand out, and ensure that it is hard to forget.

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