Fluence – Stephen Oram (9/10)

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This has been on my ‘to read’ list ever since I finished Stephen Oram’s first book Quantum Confessions, which has stuck with me ever since like a vivid dream. I’m glad I got round to it because this is another illuminating and imaginative glimpse into a potential future for humanity.

This time we are introduced to a world in which social media influence is treated as currency (called fluence) and directly decides which class (strata) you belong to and therefore which privileges you have access to. The stratum are give the names of rainbow colours; red being highest, violet lowest, and white reserved for the disabled. The reds are the ruling strata, seemingly taking the place of government. There is also a group of people who have dropped out of the system altogether known as outliers. We get a taste of the way each strata lives, and the various struggles they face.

The central plot follows main characters Amber, Martin and Max in an intertwined way. All three are struggling with the system that contains them, and seeking the gold at the end of the rainbow. Every character is realistic and believable, which means they are not always likeable, but definitely relatable.

What really made this book a delight for me was the imagery. There was evidently a lot of imagination behind the futuristic lifestyles of the higher classes in particular. At one point Amber goes to a decadent party where games are played to win influence points, the detail of which is beautifully original and has left strong impressions in my mind. I also loved the in-depth descriptions of clothing and food throughout, because they highlighted the materiality of the world whilst subtly illustrating the contrasting motivations of the characters.

For anyone who has read my reviews before, what I look for in a book is something thought-provoking; something that sends me away having seen a new angle to a social or personal reality. Fluence helped me to affirm a few of things. Firstly this lovely, simple statement says such a lot:

‘booze, bargains and gambling. It’s really no different from the elite enjoying fine wines, getting a good price on an antique, and making investments’.

At base, are they really all the same mechanisms with a different social symbols attached?

Without giving any spoilers, other things this book made me contemplate were: is a hierarchical structure impeding our free will, or is such an abstract grouping necessary to instil the psychological effect of making those who would otherwise collapse care and strive? What is more valuable to you: love and privacy, or status? And do we need people that are in alliance with each in order to function as a society?

Despite containing some big life questions, this book is very easy to follow and an entertaining page turner. There are no sections that drag or are unnecessary. The language is real and the concepts are believable as being not too far in our future. I’d even go so far as to say that, other than the ideas of future tech, it is a reality that is already here; albeit not in such obvious, vulgar terms.

Almost every review I have read of this book compares it to 1984 and/or Black Mirror, presumably because they are the most well known and loved of dystopian future fiction. But for me this needs no comparison: the story is original and great of its own right.

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