Sometimes a science fiction story presents a future where you, as a reader, are left perplexed by the world created. The story presents a world where technology has evolved in different ways, often exciting, sometimes interesting. But despite the bells and whistles presented in this future world, it is difficult to connect the dots to our world, and how—or why—it has made the leaps it has. Other times, however, a science fiction story presents a future directly derived from the world in which we live. Technology has still evolved in different ways, and these too, are often exciting, and are more than likely interesting, thanks to how easily we can connect the dots between our world and this future. Tim Ruel’s Shiny Metal Boxes: The Wormholescope Chronicles, Entry: One (which, from here, I’ll refer to as the subtitle-free title Shiny Metal Boxes) most assuredly sits in the latter camp.
I would not refer to Shiny Metal Boxes as a cyberpunk novel, the commentary it provides about the state of the world and the direction it’s moving in contains many of the hallmarks, particularly surrounding corporations doing everything they can to capitalise on the needs and wants of the public. The commentary contained in Shiny Metal Boxes also moves in different directions, making for a great piece of speculative fiction.
The theme with the greatest resonance, however, is the issue of privacy brought upon by the eyeGo. The eyeGo is a cybernetic enhancement that records everything the user sees, maps interests for advertising, and acts as a resource to give all the details relating to the people you see. Throughout this novel, Ruel provides a wry commentary on the world—both of the future, and of now—and presents the negatives, like a gross invasion of privacy, but also positive effects like the eyeGo’s constant recording resulting in a constant feed of evidence that prevents crime. Through this lens (pun very much intended, thank you), Ruel digs into the effect this technology would have on society, and how it has changed as a result.
I rarely comment on blurbs in my reviews, but Shiny Metal Boxes’ blurb sells short the amount of humour contained inside the book’s pages. While various references in this blurb elicited a smile from me, it doesn’t convey what a large part humour plays in the narrative. Throughout the book, I was chuckling at the turns of phrase throughout and laughing at the way Ruel pokes fun at a society that obsesses over social media and will happily sacrifice privacy in the name of convenience. On numerous occasions, the writing reminded me of Douglas Adams, and the sparkling wit he brought to his writing.
As wonderful as the commentary and humour throughout Shiny Metal Boxes is, I was less enamoured by the plot. Throughout, the author builds a mystery around Jobs Disease (surely, this is named after Steve Jobs) and its possible linkages to the eyeGo, as well as the titular shiny metal boxes. The story spans into a globe trotting conspiracy thriller, albeit one which remains light throughout in order to keep the tone. The plot is engaging enough to keep the reader interested and turning the pages, but isn’t particularly memorable. I found it works in service of the themes and humour, rather than the focus of the story itself.
As you can no doubt tell from the subtitle’s reference to The Wormholescope Chronicles, Shiny Metal Boxes is the first book in a series. As it reaches its conclusion, it is evident that there is a lot more story to be told, but the book ends in a way that it feels like a complete story. You’ll likely be left wanting more, but that will be because of the quality of this book; not because it ended prematurely.
More memorable, however, are the characters. Shiny Metal Boxes occupies a heightened sense of reality, and the characters fit within this. They do so without being stereotypical or larger than life, and while the book is full of humour and has these characters in comedic situations, they remain grounded. Each of them is fully realised and three dimensional. And most importantly, they are all enjoyable to read.
At 240 pages in paperback and an estimated 272 pages on your eReader of choice, Shiny Metal Boxes is a quick read. This is aided by short paragraphs and sentences, which convey the story without relying on purple prose. At points, I felt more space could have been used to flesh the world out further, but this is only a mild niggle as it still portrayed everything it needed to.
If you’re a fan of humorous stories and science fiction, and appreciate speculative fiction that comments on the world around us, Shiny Metal Boxes is a thoroughly enjoyable read. While the plot could have been stronger, and I would have liked some of the prose to be expanded upon, these don’t stop the book from being thoroughly entertaining.
In 2048, an avatar of a horse with a blue horn, dubbed Yoyo the Unicorn, got elected Florida governor in a sixty-seven percent landslide. Yoyo’s campaign had used an AI Recommender, which told the campaign to broadcast a simple election promise: free pizza delivered to Floridians every Wednesday. Outrage over Yoyo’s upset victory prompted a US convention to block avatars from future elections.Shiny Metal Boxes: The Wormholescope Chronicles, Entry: One, Chapter 24
Shiny Metal Boxes: The Wormholescope Chronicles, Entry: One was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Shiny Metal Boxes is available in paperback exclusive to Amazon, and in eBook from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon.
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