Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

Identifiable, by Julia Tvardovskaya

4.5 out of 5 stars. A cautionary tale, parts coming of age, parts social criticism.

4.5 stars

Einstein made the term Gedankenexperiment – thought experiment – world famous, his special relativity theory made heavy use of this tool. (He didn’t coin the term, however, that was Hans Christian Ørsted, while reading Kant.) But what has that to do with a kid called Rory?

This review is part of a LoveBooksTours. Check out the other reviews, you’ll find them on Instagram or via Twitter! And definitely check out our interview with Julia!

The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.

George Orwell

This novel is described as a dystopian sci-fi, but as the author herself says: it’s a thought experiment. About social media and what it does to us, and the question it revolves around is – you would never guess that – identity.

In this case – what if the identity we create online for our children (by posting that oh-so-sweet video of it tearing through its Halloween candy, and thousands more like that) is forced upon our child? It’s a wild idea, and it wouldn’t work this way now, which is why Julia sets her novel in the distant future in the 2110’s forward. I can see the angle she’s coming from. In her world, everyone has instant access to everything on the internet about you just by looking at you. Just imagine meeting someone in the street you’ve never met before, and instantly seeing every drunk Facebook post that person ever wrote (or was tagged in).

(symbolic) Me in the world of Identifiable, where I would pass no judgement on passing people because I couldn’t care less about strangers.

By the way, dystopian stories have almost always been a warning against oppression by surveillance. George Orwell is a classic here, but also, to an instant, Ray Bradbury (Julia quotes both of them during the prologue.) I’ve read the classics, but I think if you want to read a modern example of this, you should also try Orbury by Nora Wall. (To this day, I think her story was in part an allegory of social media, as you can see in the linked review.)

In the case of Identifiable, Orwell’s Big Brother is substituted with Everyone Else. It’s a logical conclusion to the current state of the world. (And it is happening – there are people out there who have been confronted during job interviews with stuff they’ve written on Facebook and co.)

Julia makes more adjustments to her future world, and this is the first novel I’ve ever read that was clearly influenced by Corona. (In Julia’s world, people not only have instant internet access, but also vaccines are mandatory.)

How I imagine the internet access in my brain would look like – too many tabs, right?

What is kind of disturbing – but probably realistic – is how Julia’s world is at the same time technological advanced while being backwards in the understanding of role models. There’s a lot of male/female stuff there that sounds downright medieval. But maybe that’s just the brood Rory’s mother lives in. (In Julia’s terms, a brood is what we would call a bubble on social media – not sure why the coining of a new term was necessary.)

What if she cared more about seeming like a good mom than actually being one?

Profound thoughts of Rory’s father

That quote might be the thoughts of one of the protagonists, but it really is – for me, at least – an accurate description of people making their living by social media (I hate the term influencer). You can substitute “mom” in this sentence for anything else, and it’s a universal truth of our world today. In TikSnapstaGramTwitHiveBook, people don’t strive to be anything – they just want to be seen as something. And that is a difference. It shows how superficial this social media dream world is.

The thought experiment Julia embarks upon revolves around Rory – and his mother, who obsessively created a profile for him while he was young that was so adamant, he couldn’t change it. And it’s hard not to see Julia’s point, but I have to admit that I sometimes felt like she was forcing her opinion on me. Like the scene when a 5 year old Rory has critical thoughts about the way his mother curasses his profile – it feels forced, because I can’t see a child of 5 thinking those thoughts. That seems a tad to deep.

What has Christianity in common with social media groups? Well, it’s a cross to bear, for sure.

Rory’s parents are deeply rooted in Christianity. That is something I find not plausible in the year 2100 onwards – if I extrapolate current trends into the future, I’m pretty sure the church will get less important. Even more so considering the drastic changes to politics Julia implemented in her world. But then again, the people in this novel stick to their broods like fanatics stick to a religion, even using violence against people of different broods. Paternal control ensures early on that children grow up that way, as is shown when Rory plays with a Red child, and his mother scolds him for not playing with a fellow Yellow.

In the end, I quite enjoyed this Gedankenexperiment, although the theory behind it seemed to have a few holes. Like the way the birth of this innovation was described, that seemed like Julia felt the urge to describe how her technocratic world came to be – word to the wise: If you have a strong premise for your setting that works and you don’t have a fantastic way of explaining how it came to be – simply skip the explanation. The novel works anyway.

There’s also the fact that those internet access points in humans brains might be lightning fast, but that in itself wouldn’t change the fact that people are still sometimes slow in their thought processes, making those insta judgments a bit unrealistic within the context of the setting. And I would have honestly loved to implore they way that affected our world in more depth, like for example in schools – what need is there to learn anything in, say, history when you can access all records within a moment?

Julia tells how that would change our social life. But how would that change the way we learn, what kind of weaknesses to fake news would this kind of dependency create? And what would happen to a society so dependent on this kind of technology if there was some kind of failure, like the destruction of internet access? (Julia thankfully answered those questions in our interview.)

The fact that this novel is capable of sparking all those questions within me is a sign of how good it is. 4 well earned stars!

Disclaimer: I’ve received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and am leaving this review voluntarily.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

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