The Chain by Antony Millen – 2015

the_chain_cover_for_kindleThe Chain takes us into the privacy / security debate, it is set in 2043 where the democratising power of the Internet has gone ballistic – with no national borders or jingoistic-causing historical place names, and where all information exchange and debate happens in an open online environment: “… all of it was meant to connect us, to tear down walls of insecurity and intolerance, to reveal that we are all the same …” – if all the peoples of the world freely communicate with each other and openly debate with one another online there will be no basis for conflict or disharmony.  But it is a dystopian world – not everyone is happy to lose their privacy, and no-matter how democratic the outward philosophy “Someone always has to be in control”, someone has to run the infrastructure and enforce the new order, and to do that the rulers need an invasive surveillance system and rules such as a limit of 6 people allowed to congregate in the flesh at any one time.  The Chain was written for a YA audience – the main protagonists are two young brothers – but the themes of the book will appeal to a much wider group, I was very aware of how many times I checked my various online devices while reading it!  The brothers, Topia and Lukan, live in the King Country in what was once New Zealand – one prefers being out in the bush riding his horse, the other embraces the world he was born into and spends most of his time gaming online.  They are a little embarrassed by their Canadian father, knowing that at one point in his past he had been in trouble due to his free speech blogging.  But just before their father dies they find out that his past might not be over and done with – a chain of clues has been left for them to collect around the world that will lead them to information that will bring down the mass surveillance system that controls their lives; the system their father warned about at its inception many years before.  Neither boy is keen – Topia not wanting to leave his home and Lukan not thinking bringing down his online world is a good idea!  But the boys set out on a course similar to that of ill-gotten gains being transferred via multiple locations to evade detection.  And as the boys travel they discover what life is really like for the off-liners and people in other ‘colocation centres’.  More worrying still is their discovery that not all the information shared in the online environment is preserved – there is censorship – the systematic wiping of anything that might lead to individuality or other than ‘eartizen’ identity, such as minority languages, cultures and beliefs: “Why do we need an all-seeing god, when we can see all ourselves?”  At one point the boys resort to speaking in Te Reo to preserve their privacy, and also to writing notes to each other on paper; with a lack of online encryption the only safe way to communicate – “Stupidest thing this world ever did, getting rid of books.”  And the boys puzzle over imponderables such as: “What does individual privacy have to do with replenishing caribou herds?”  There are plenty of ‘our world’ references in the book: an Edward Snowdenesque whistle blower, the end result of the austerity measures in Greece, there is even reference to the New Zealand flag referendum!  But what I particularly liked was the theme that the complexity we lose when we lose our privacy is the complexity of our storytelling.  The clues are symbolic and mythical and carried in old books and manuscripts – and ironically derive from the fact that there are common themes running through our different cultural stories – but the way to find commonality is through exploring complexity and not through an ersatz simplicity.  I enjoyed the read and the ideas.

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4 Responses to The Chain by Antony Millen – 2015

  1. antonymillen says:

    Thank you so much for this thorough review Alyson. It’s wonderful to read such an astute perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My 2016 Year In Review – Antony Millen

  3. Pingback: The Chain by Antony Millen – 2015 – Antony Millen

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