Crosstalk, by Connie Willis

Crosstalk, by Connie Willis book coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Published: 2016
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by SJ Higbee

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Connie Willis is in that special category of writers as having been the author of one of my all-time favourite novels, Doomsday Book — see my review here. I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted this offering on Netgalley and was blown away when my request for the arc was accepted.

Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept (‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings.

Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her — he wants her to feel it. Everything is perfect. The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD — which they will — they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later.

Only Apple are poised to deliver an amazing new product and she has to be one step ahead …if she can only persuade their tech genius, C. B., to drop his crazy ideas about a ‘privacy phone’ with its ‘do not disturb’ settings, and focus on what people really want: more efficient, instinctive and immediate ways to communicate. The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and — for Briddey — a chance for love at the heart of it all.

For those of you who have read Doomsday Book and fear this is yet another slice of armageddon, this story ticks at a fair clip with plenty of laughs along the way. We are immediately whirled up into the world of corporate gossip and concerns about how the latest launch will impact on jobs — as well as the carnivorous interest shown in fellow workers’ love lives. Especially when the latest happy couple both work for the same company. But Briddey is also fending off her family’s less than delighted reaction at her plans to commit to new boyfriend, Trent, by having a cutting-edge procedure that will make them neutrally more sensitive to each other’s emotions. However when they get bumped to the top of the very long waiting list and the operation comes around far more quickly, Briddey finds there are some unintended consequences.

The plotting is pitch-perfect. We are tipped right into the middle of Briddey’s busy, connective world where she constantly juggles a number of conversations, both private and professional. As the story picks up pace and shoots off in directions I didn’t see coming, I found the book increasingly hard to put down and whenever I thought about it, I found myself grinning.

That said, don’t go away that this is a piece of happy fluff, because there are compelling scenes full of terror as Briddey teeters on the brink of destruction and madness. And help comes from an unexpected quarter — except that it isn’t remotely unexpected. Anyone who has ever read a romantic comedy will know the bloke with messy hair is going feature in some way.

What is far less predictable is where the story about mental connectedness is going — and I loved the twists and turns, as well as the science behind it that Willis slips into the narrative. Any grizzles? Well, Briddey’s intrusive extended family includes a very precocious nine-year-old niece. Given the nature of her role in the story, I felt she should have been at least eleven — while she is clearly exceptional, my experience of nine-year-olds under pressure is that those two extra years make a huge difference to a child’s confidence and sense of self.

That said, it isn’t a dealbreaker and I also love that under the mayhem and comedy, Willis is raising some pertinent and searching questions about our current obsession about staying in touch with each other. A highly recommended read.

I received the arc from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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