Flexible, Fluid 'Revision' Bounces From Rom-Com To Sci-Fi
One of my earliest experiences of how astonishing a tool is Twitter came several years ago, when, seeing Californians tweeting about an earthquake, I texted my best friend in canyon country to ask if she'd felt the earthquake where she was. She said no — and then freaked out as the tremors reached her a few minutes later. The internet was literally faster than the quake.
I thought of this while reading Andrea Phillips' Revision, a clever, fast-paced, tightly written debut that I devoured in a sitting. We live in a world where we can communicate over vast distances at the speed of thought, but suppose our ability to document events actually outpaced events themselves? Suppose that simply by writing about something, we could make it happen?
Mira Newton is content to be an unambitious barista whose single biggest worry is avoiding her wealthy family's demands that she make more of herself. Her boyfriend, Benji, is co-founder of a company called Verity, "an online reference source crossed with a newspaper, something a little like Wikipedia, but bigger and deeper and scarier — breaking news as it happened, information on ordinary people, real Big Brother stuff." When Benji very suddenly breaks up with her, she takes revenge by editing his Verity bio to say that "he is deeply in love with his new fiancée, Mira Newton."
A few hours later, Benji proposes to her.
As Mira tries to process what's happened, creepy coincidences, unfortunate accidents, and mysterious strangers begin to crowd — and threaten — her life. She must take an increasingly active role in protecting herself, knowing that at any moment someone could be editing her thoughts, decisions, and actions with the push of a button.
I loved this book. It's a genre chameleon, spiralling outward from rom-com through spy thrillers and hard science fiction to land somewhere vaguely in the realm of the near-future. Mira's a fantastic point of view character, lackadaisically wry, flawed, potentially unreliable, but always hugely engaging. She's at the center of a great cast, too, diverse and hilarious; Phillips has an excellent ear for dialogue, and the welding of humour and threat level is genuinely remarkable. It's a fine, fun ride.
I'm familiar with Phillips' short fiction and her work in games (especially The Walk, which I can't recommend enough), and Revision fits neatly into the ouvre of an author who's interested in the ways technology interacts with our selfhood and free will. While the MacGuffin in Revision is a website that alters reality (within interestingly limited parameters) the novel resonates with our unprecedented capacity to create — or fall victim to — powerful narratives. A tweet read out of context can go viral and destroy a person's career; an image of young girls in pretty dresses is mistakenly read as proof of child brides. Our ability to represent reality is out of all proportion to the responsibility we feel when sharing a photo or snarking on the internet, and Revision is very much aware of that.
Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can't wait to see what Phillips does next.