“So an antisocial introvert doing everything in his power to avoid the world … may have created a technology that will end up destroying it?”
Ben and Adhi were college roommates who bonded over shared trauma – the death of a parent – as otherwise they couldn’t be more different from each other. Ben’s charismatic and driven, someone who sees himself as a Steve Jobs visionary type. Adhi, on the other hand, is an introverted engineering genius. Dissatisfied with their lives after college, Adhi uses knowledge from his Google day job to create a time travel machine, albeit one with very specific limitations. It’s a quantum computer that connects with itself exactly one year in the future, giving them access to everything on the future internet. They quickly come up with a startup to turn it into a consumer device, but as the year progresses, can their friendship – let alone the world – survive knowing the future? After all, why wouldn’t you want to know about the future?
“I do not intend to pin my fate and success to chance, or investment.
To the roll of the dice, or the rise and fall of the market.
I intend to bet on myself.”
While some of the possible benefits – and pitfalls – of being able to see a year in the future are explored, the focus of the book was more on Ben and Adhi’s relationship rather than the technology itself. Adhi compares them to Kirk and Spock, though I think that’s a bit idealistic (and rather indicative of Adhi’s way of thinking). While they may see themselves as idealistic visionaries and even superheroes, there to bless the world with their invention (or at least the part of the world that can afford to buy it), they both have a lot of morally grey moments. Understandably, they’re quickly swept up into the VC echo chamber and find themselves pulled between the allure of making money or “bettering the world.” There’s a lot of hubris, and the addition of a love triangle with Ben’s wife Leila adds another level. The author does a good job of laying out the solidity of their friendship before things went wrong and then each incident that fractures it.
“Is “playing God” so wrong, in a world that seems devoid of meaningful divine interventions?
Someone needs to do it.”
Though I found the plot itself predictable, the format was fascinating. I love epistolary novels and this is definitely the modern version of one. The story is told through blog posts, press releases, emails and text messages, within the overall frame of the transcripts of a Congressional hearing. Even in these formats, each character has a certain style, from Ben’s rambling to Adhi’s staccato sentences. I would’ve liked a few more red herrings in terms of the plot, but I suppose it really says something for the characterization that I kept reading even though I was pretty certain how it would end after a chapter or two (and yeah, I was right). As for other cons, the author is white, while the characters are people of color – Ben is black and Adhi is Indian. For the most part, it’s not much reflected in text, besides Adhi’s mom emailing him and telling him to come visit to have saag or daal. There is one moment, when a female employee accuses Ben and the company in general of being a boys’ club, where Ben throws their diversity around, like it somehow absolves them of misogyny. That felt off to me, but it could’ve just been the general ickiness of the whole exchange.
Overall, three and a half stars, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this author.