Review - AMNESIA, Peter Carey

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Book Synopsis

It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22.00 Greenwich Mean Time when a worm entered the computerised control systems of hundreds of Australian prisons and released the locks in many places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed. 

Because Australian prison security was, in the year 2010, mostly designed and sold by American corporations the worm immediately infected 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1,700 prisons, and over 3,000 county jails. Wherever it went, it travelled underground, in darkness, like a bushfire burning in the roots of trees. Reaching its destinations it announced itself: The corporation is under our control. The angel declares you free.

Has a young Australian woman declared cyber war on the United States? Or was her Angel Worm intended only to open the prison doors of those unfortunates detained by Australia's harsh immigration policies? Did America suffer collateral damage? Is she innocent? Can she be saved?

Book Review

The blurb on the back of AMNESIA reads exactly like that of a really good thriller. A threat that unleashes something frightening in the world, and the battle to find the perpetrator.

Which seemed, by the end of the book, to be written for another AMNESIA, somewhere in a parallel universe. One where the book we were reading actually addressed the major plot elements, rather than immediately meandering off into something or other about an ex-journalist / ghost writer who had a bit of a hump up with the world who ... something.

It's certainly possible to see what Carey was trying to do here. There's obviously an attempt at humour and lashings of irony. A bored observation of the boring concept of boring threats instigated by the world's biggest baddie. Or at least that's a best guess.

Which would be perfectly fair enough. It's not like the concept of political interference and corruption, cyber-threats and big-power lording it over supposed allies is new fare in the world of thrillers. There is a reasonable argument to be had about it being done to death. The difference is that in most of that style of book that this reader has read, the actual threats, the players, and the consequences are explored, analysed and frequently even explained. 

In the case of AMNESIA it doesn't feel like any of that is even attempted. Added to that was a rather predictable pattern of "left and right" Australian political thought, yet another "perspective" on the 1975 Dismissal and, alas, a somewhat stunning lack of technical validity for the whole worm infection in the first place.

Add to that a tendency to pastiche the Australian-ness of the setting, and AMNESIA rapidly lurched into something that seemed more like a self-involved, navel gazing, rights of passage for some drunken old journo than anything like a thriller.

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