The premise of this clever and well-written sci-fi thriller, set in the UK in a very near future, is fascinating. The AI that controls eight driverless cars moving to their different destinations is hacked, the destinations are reprogrammed, as the passengers become a hostage to a mysterious and seemingly omniscient Hacker who informs them that in 2 1/2 hours they are going to die.
The story alternates between showing what happens to the people in the cars (who come from all walks of life: a pregnant young woman, an aging actress, and a mother of five trying to escape her abusive husband, an immigrant whose appeal for asylum has been refused, a married couple with two children, a decorated war veteran and a suicidal new man) and a car incident inquest jury. The people on the jury are told they can save one passenger only, while the rest are going to die. As the Car Hack is broadcast live all over the world, the public is also given one vote to decide which passenger they want to save. One by one, the passengers plead their cases, trying to make the best impression of themselves, only to have the Hacker reveal additional information about them that completely changes the picture. Is there anyone truly innocent among these people? Who will survive the imminent collision? and why is the Hacker doing it ?
The story is a real page-turner with numerous twists and turns. John Marrs masterfully shows how dangerous and misleading incomplete information is when a vital decision is to be taken. The main moral dilemma is whether one person’s life is more valuable than the other’s, although there are other equally serious issues discussed, including racism, gender discrimination, honesty, unscrupulous politicians, and mob mentality in the age of social media.
The book is well-researched, and the topic is timely, as the ethical issues raised by the author in such an entertaining way are serious and pertinent to the technological advances our society is making. The aspect that was the most thought-provoking for me wasn’t our over-reliance on technology that isn’t infallible, but the amount of data about us that is being collected, used and potentially abused. Another moment which horrified me was the ease with which the public opinion could be manipulated by presenting incomplete information.
The characters created by John Marrs are diverse, complex and multi-faceted. As the book progresses, your opinions will be revised, as things are rarely black and white, and the more you get to know the people in the book, the more difficult you will find to judge them.
Exciting, fast-paced, entertaining to the point of being addictive, The Passengers is a must read not only for sci-fi fans, but for anybody who enjoys a well-written, thought-provoking thriller.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read The Passengers?
- If yes, what was the most thought-provoking aspect for you? which character did you find the most fascinating?
- If no, does the book sound like something you would like to add to your tbr?
- Have you read any other books by John Marrs?