Review: L-2011 (Future of London Book 1)

L-2011

Author: Mark Gillespie 

Genre: Alternative History, Speculative Fiction

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/2kYZpgU

My rating: 5 out of 5

Blurb: The Revolution Will Be Televised, Retweeted And Liked

August 2011

The London riots, coordinated by technology and social media, have brought the city to its knees.

Buildings are burning. Shops are being looted. Homes and businesses are destroyed.

Two alternative leaders have emerged in an online battle for the future soul of London.

Chester George – a masked man whose real identity is unknown, uses YouTube, punk rock and fierce intellect to spread the anarchy.

Sadie Hobbs – Reality TV star and blogger. Loathed and controversial, she urges ‘normal’ society to fight back against Chester George and the ‘feral rats’ destroying the city.

The fate of London hangs in the balance. And when the day of reckoning comes, hundreds of thousands of people, including sixteen-year-old Mack Walker, will descend upon the city for the final showdown and a day that London will never forget.

Review: L-2011 (Future of London) draws a dark and scarily realistic portrait of how easy it is for our civilization and contemporary society to make a detour in a closed end street full of violence, looting, horror, and unraveling. The plot was inspired by the real-life murder of Mark Duggan, a black man in London shot by the police in the summer of 2011 and the subsequent riots that escalate after a protest in Tottenham. As every piece of speculative fiction, it starts with the what-if question: what if the resentment, anger and suppressed negative energy had reached their breaking point and they had led to a riot of much larger proportions? What if years of muffled conflicts couldn’t be silenced anymore? The short answer is: all hell breaks loose.

I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with the real life events and the 2011 protests before opening that book. However, the author has done a great job at leading the reader into the story and depicting the different sides of the protests. It was easy to understand even without having followed the dramatic events of 2011. Half of the novel is written in a docu-fiction style in the form of television report transcripts, YouTube videos, social media tweets and blog posts. The other part revolves around a group of teenagers, their reaction, and involvement in the riots and looting. We meet white and Scottish upper-middle-class Mack Walker, a newcomer in London whose past is catching up with him and the new gang of friends he’s been trying to impress. At first, they see the riot as an excitement, something that breaks their normal and grey routine. Over the course of the plot, we see the entire situation through their eyes, from the “shopping” to the YouTube videos and secret Blackberry messages to the blood-chilling violence and destruction.

It is the 21st century so the fight, violence, looting and riots are no longer preserved for the streets. Social media is both a weapon of war and the only platform where social injustice can be discussed. The stakes get higher when Chester George, the anonymous speaker for the masses, the punk rock force of nature behind the Good and Honest Citizens moves the crowds of protesters with just a few short YouTube clips and a powerful calling. The reality star and blogger Sadie Hobbs pours oil on troubled waters, convinced that the “feral rats” must be exterminated, that the violence should be met with more violence by those she refers to as the “normal people”. It is a matter of days and hours when the inevitable clash will happen, the fear burns faster even than the London buildings. The characters deal with their own demons, the limits of acceptable are pushed and it all leads to an explosive and completely unexpected finale.

I loved the straightforward style of the novel, the small details that get us into the story. The writing flows easily and Mark Gillespie develops characters with a strong presence, realistic, flawed, often insecure beneath their bravado. The story is not for the faint of heart and neither for those with delicate sensibilities. Plenty of horrible, hard to deal with scenes take place between the first act and the thrilling culmination. However, I’m grateful for that. Anything less would be too condescending to the reader. To spare them from the brutal realism of the situation would kill the plot or make it less effective. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I was reading a book filled with disturbing violence for the sake of the shock value. As a matter of fact, some of the scariest parts were what we were never shown. Gillespie gives us enough visual clues and our imagination does the trick. That works very strong in one scene that doesn’t last a long time and we don’t get to see anything too graphic. Yet that moment haunts Mack until the end, feeding his sense of powerlessness and bringing him back to the events from his past he can never escape from.

Perhaps the most frightening are how easy such a situation could happen in real life, especially with the current political and social climate. Maybe it wouldn’t be in such a short term or with more resistance from the authorities but it is as close to reality as it gets. In any case, it’s a really thought-provoking piece of fiction with a strong side of realism. As another reviewer pointed out, it was a coming of age tale and also an objective social study.

I enjoyed L-2011 a lot and would recommend it to anyone who likes smart contemporary and well-thought story with a gripping plot, strong conflicts, and characters. I look forward to reading its sequel, Mr. Apocalypse and get to know more of that author’s other work.

Five Futuristic Stars.

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