By Sylvain Neuvel
The premise for this novella has it that in order to become a British citizen, immigrants have to pass a psychological assessment that takes the form of an advanced virtual-reality scenario. The reader immediately thinks of one of the more sinister experiments devised by Stanley Milgram, and while that isn’t far off the mark what’s telling here is what the technology (an advanced mix of software and drugs) is really doing. The point isn’t to control Idir (the applicant) but to reveal him to the observers. And, as things develop, the story turns out to be just as much about them as it does Idir. The observer effect is amplified by the human factor, changing lives as well as the results of the test. This is the real threat here, more than the political misuse of the assessment being made, and the resonance is all the greater in the age of Big Data because we are, voluntarily or unconsciously, taking these tests every day.