Wolves, by Simon Ings, is a strange novel. In a blog post, the author has explained that it is part memoir, which is a helpful way of looking at it. The story follows Conrad, an advertising and tech pioneer, and follows three broad themes of his life: his relationship with his childhood best friend and later collaborator, his confrontation of the traumatic events surrounding the disappearance of his mother during his childhood, and his development and exploitation of new Augmented Reality technology.
There are some interesting aspects to the novel. I enjoyed the articulation of Conrad’s relationship with his friend Michel and the exploration of his mother’s mental illness. Though at times I found the literary fiction-style depiction of their friendship treatment of these issues to be a little too knowing and cynical. I struggled to gain an emotional connection to the characters.
There were some clever parallels between the technology Conrad’s father was working on to help blinded servicemen and the AR technology Conrad later comes to work on. We canter round the philosophical question of whether what we see, feel and hear is truly ‘real’ when it can be manipulated by direct stimulation of the optical and auditory nerves, and the brain before approaching the much more interesting question of the impact that has on society. As purveyors of alternate realities, Conrad and Michel become responsible for the increasing distancing and alienation of people from each other. It is hinted that the prevalence of this technology and increasing dependence will potentially lead to the unravelling of contemporary society. Such dystopian warnings are not uncommon in fiction, and the fear of the impact of unregulated technology is an established trope in SF. But the themes are never fully developed.
Overall, this is a novel that really didn’t hang together well for me. It wasn’t sure whether it wanted to be a lit-fic coming of age story, or a post-apocalyptic techno-thriller. In trying to being both I was left unsatisfied.
Goodreads rating: 3*