Pluralistic: Rebecca Roque's "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (16 Apr 2024)

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The Blackstone cover of Rebecca Roque's 'Till Human Voices Wake Us.'

Rebecca Roque's "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (permalink)

"Till Human Voices Wake Us" is Rebecca Roque's debut novel: it's a superb teen thriller, intricately plotted and brilliantly executed, packed with imaginative technological turns that amp up the tension and suspense:

Modern technology presents a serious problem for a thriller writer. Once characters can call or text one another, a whole portfolio of suspense-building gimmicks – like the high-speed race across town – just stop working. For years, thriller writers contrived implausible – but narratively convenient – ways to go on using these tropes. Think of the shopworn "damn, my phone is out of battery/range just when I need it the most":

When that fails, often writers just lean into the "idiot plot" – a plot that only works because the characters are acting like idiots:

But even as technology was sawing a hole in the suspense writer's bag of tricks, shrewd suspense writers were cooking up a whole new menu of clever ways to build suspense in ways that turn on the limitations and capabilities of technology. One pioneer of this was Iain M Banks (RIP), whose 2003 novel Dead Air was jammed with wildly ingenious ways to use cellphones to raise the stakes and heighten the tension:

This is "techno-realism" at its best. It's my favorite mode of storytelling, the thing I lean into with my Little Brother and Martin Hench books – stories that treat the things that technology can and can't do as features, not bugs. Rather than having the hacker "crack the mainframe's cryptography in 20 minutes when everyone swears it can't be done in less than 25," the techno-realist introduces something gnarlier, like a supply-chain attack that inserts a back-door, or a hardware keylogger, or a Remote Access Trojan.

Back to Roque's debut novel: it's a teen murder mystery told in the most technorealist way. Cia's best friend Alice has been trying to find her missing boyfriend for months, and in her investigation, she's discovered their small town's dark secret – a string of disappearances, deaths and fires that are the hidden backdrop to the town's out-of-control addiction problem.

Alice has something to tell Cia, something about the fire that orphaned her and cost her one leg when she was only five years old, but Cia refuses to hear it. Instead, they have a blazing fight, and part ways. It's the last time Cia and Alice ever see each other: that night, Alice kills herself.

Or does she? Cia is convinced that Alice has been murdered, and that her murder is connected to the drug- and death-epidemic that's ravaging their town. As Cia and her friends seek to discover the town's secret – and the identity of Alice's killer – we're dragged into an intense, gripping murder mystery/conspiracy story that is full of surprises and reversals, each more fiendishly clever than the last.

But as good as the storytelling, the characterization and the mystery are, Roque's clever technological gambits are even better. This book is a master-class in how a murder mystery can work in the age of social media and ubiquitous mobile devices. It's the first volume in a trilogy and it ends on a hell of a cliff-hanger, too.

Hey look at this (permalink)

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This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Canadian government spending public funds to develop DRM

#15yrsago Pirate Bay defendants found guilty, sentenced to jail

#15yrsago London cops mug tourist for his bus-station photos

#5yrsago On the eve of a contentious election, Twitter suspends the accounts of progressive activists

#5yrsago Your kid’s “smart watch” lets anyone in the world trace their location. Again.

#1yrago How To Make the Least-Worst Mastodon Threads

Upcoming appearances (permalink)

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Recent appearances (permalink)

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Latest books (permalink)

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Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

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Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

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