Barcelona is a key character in this “What-If” novel. The setting is in a world where brains are viewed as hard drives. In the opening we read:
“We shall move to plan B… We have already found a brain big enough, we just need her to accept the procedure.”
Livvy finds herself only able to upload the POLITICAL LEADERSHIP profile in opposition to the norm where people can select and customize their skills. The Monastery, the novel’s Big Brother, does not give her choices. Thus we enter the conflict: How much freedom can / should an individual surrender? Here it is the art of Barcelona that provides Livvy a path to individualism. But what is the balance in a world of limited brain space between serving the state and serving self?
There are several points where the narrative places this question in front of the reader:
“But… when I realized I have all this incredible knowledge, which enables me to get an amazing job, I could not help but wonder about the skills that could bring me joy.”
The story is an interesting journey of self discovery as well as a mirror to our own world over over-information, surveillance, and trading freedom for security. I enjoyed the introduction of “silent language of the bodies” and the discovery in the book that non verbal reactions can be subconscious and even involuntary. “Every behavior is a need trying to be met.”
As someone who teaches psychology I also enjoyed the chapter headings such as “the other end of the iceberg.” In this world where brain space is constantly regulated and a high value commodity, it is peace and a truly quiet state of mind that is the true goal.
This is a fun world. A self-examination of our own without being preachy. It flirts with brain science but not to the extent of being a textbook or so technical it dulls the read. Livvy has a small cast of characters around her that have their own voices. Overall, if you enjoy books such as 1984 (Orwell), Parable of the Talents (Butler), or Vox (Dalcher) you will likely find this book enjoyable. If you haven’t read those three, add them and this one to your Dystopian “to read” list.