This is the creepiest, most sinister book I’ve read in a while.
I’ve read a lot of suspense and horror in my day, but nothing gripped me and held me like this book did.
A visitor arrives on Junior and Hen’s farm and tells them that Junior is longlisted to go to the Installation. That this won’t happen immediately, but to be prepared when it does. A couple of years pass and the visitor, Terrance, appears again, saying the trip to the Installation is imminent. Terrance says he must live with them, to get to know Junior so he may create a copy of Junior for Hen to live with while he’s away.
This book sets the stage immediately. It’s obvious that something is wrong because Junior’s dialogue has no quotation marks and Junior never asks what the Installation is, how he ‘won’ a place there, or whether it’s a choice that he go.
Brilliant storytelling. Fantastic, tight dialogue. Every word has a purpose, every word pulls the story along, every bit is relevant. There is no extraneous information, there’s no draggy parts to the novel, there creepiness and suspense never drops.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes books that stick with you after the last page. I definitely want to re-read this, now that I know how it ends.
GIGANTIC SPOILER SECTION:
I mean, I warned you in the title. But here we go, here’s my explanation of what happened in the novel.
Terrance arrives in a black car with green headlights. The green signals Junior to ‘wake up’. Junior isn’t human, he’s an AI living with Hen on a farm while the real Junior is off at the Installation. Terrance talks to the couple as a perfunctory measure, just enough to explain the visit, then leaves.
Junior asks some questions, mostly in his head, but doesn’t challenge anything. He simply accepts what Terrance says and makes an effort to live his life. Hen is aloof and standoffish at first, which Junior waves away as stress from the idea that he’ll be going to the Installation soon.
Hen lives with this version of Junior because she must, not because she was given a choice. Or at least, not a choice that she made willingly. This Junior is here, therefore, she must exist with him but she doesn’t have to like it. She keeps distant from him but does as he requests.
An example of this is the piano. She used to play a lot, but doesn’t much anymore. Junior suggests that she play because in his mind she loves to play. But later she tells him that she actually doesn’t like playing which is why she doesn’t do it much anymore. Junior excuses her minor outburst as her being out-of-sorts and of course she’ll want to play the piano later.
Terrance returns after a couple of years and says that because Junior is leaving soon, he’ll stay with them both and observe them. His reasoning is that if he observes Junior, he can give Hen a replica of Junior for when he goes to the Installation.
But the more Terrance is around, the more he talks to Hen. The reader isn’t given insight into what the conversations are about, but Junior becomes more and more antsy about them.
Then Junior arrives. The Junior that we know gets upset and says he’s the original. But this new Junior has quotation marks around his dialogue and refers to the other Junior as ‘it’. The first Junior leaves and the second Junior stays
The second Junior is immediately irritated with how Hen behaves. She doesn’t seem as attentive to him, not like her usual self. One day he goes into the kitchen and finds a note with his name on it. The note is blank.
Terrance arrives in the car with the green lights. Hen’s dialogue doesn’t have quotation marks and she’s much more attentive to Junior. I think Hen has been replaced by an AI and this Junior doesn’t notice.
They’re both living in a simulation. The entire farm property is a well-designed, immersive, VR simulation. But the people with dialogue are real. The bugs that appear in the story are a physical manifestation of bugs in the programming.