Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: NO
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After leaving university, Chris Wimpress worked as a BBC news journalist for ten years. He currently lives in East London, where he writes about politics and policy. Joe is Online is his first novel.
Joseph Brady is a misfit. He’s the brightest kid in his school, but also the worst behaved. At the young age of eleven, Joe gets an early start in computer crime. Over the next twenty years, his excesses escalate.
I’m a sucker for a story that takes place largely in cyberspace like Joe is Online. Most of us have seen examples of how online behavior differs from the “real world.” The internet has revolutionized the way people socialize and interact, making it possible to have “friends” you’ve never met on the other side of the world – friends you interact with more than your next door neighbor. This social change has given rise to two issues that seem to contradict each other. We don’t always truly know who we’re dealing with online (“on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”) yet the internet also makes invading your privacy easy. The intersection of cyberspace and real life provides a lot of opportunity for authors and their stories.
Joe is Online is a story told entirely through a series of emails, chat transcripts, blog posts, web pages, and diary entries stored as word processing documents. This is different, but could easily have turned into a very dry read. Wimpress saves the book from this by cheating a little on what I see as the concept (having everything be an artifact of online interaction). In the “diary entries,” which aren’t online artifacts, the various characters relate what happened to them in much greater detail than a diarist would typically use. These diary entries even include extensive dialog, which is limited in the other kinds of entries.
The story begins in the mid-1990s and doesn’t end until 2020. The technology depicted doesn’t advance much beyond what is currently available, definitely not at the speed it has over the last several years. This didn’t feel unnatural, but it could for some readers.
The presentation is also a gimmick. It helps the story along, but the story still has to be good enough to stand on its own. I believe it does. The character of Joe, a social misfit who is a whiz with computers, is familiar and believable. Some suspension of belief might be required, although given the stories of what young computer hackers have actually done, not that much.
Since the title mentions Joe, you might expect the story is about him as well. It is, however Joe is not the protagonist, at least as I usually view the definition. Penelope Hunt is the main character the reader will empathize with and be rooting for, while Joe is the antagonist, the character that “opposes” Penelope.
Penelope’s story is more normal than Joe’s. We follow her through university, where she studies International Relations, and eventually to Scotland for her PhD, specializing in the study of terrorism. As Joe’s crimes escalate, his and Penelope’s paths cross in cyberspace. When the timeline of Joe is Online progresses into the future, we enter the realm of speculative fiction, as Wimpress builds on the themes of cyberspace, cults, and terrorism, theorizing what the future might hold were someone to combine the worst of each of these areas.
A note at the beginning suggests using the second smallest font size on a Kindle for best readability. This insures formatting of emails, chats, and such flow naturally. If there is a reason why reading in this font size will be an issue, you might find reading difficult. Download a sample and experiment before making the purchase commitment.
The author is from the UK. He uses UK spelling and expressions.
The book has strong language and adult themes that may not be suitable for those 17 and under.
There are a small number of spelling errors obviously done on purpose. (How many of us have spelling errors in our emails?) Excluding those, there are no significant issues.
Rating: **** Four stars