Fluence - Stephen Oram

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was quite a gripping, intriguing and also worrying dystopian story. Set in a not so future London, where the government has failed and corporations have taken over, it deals with a lot of themes that seem potentially “silly” at first, yet quickly make you wonder more and more about whether this is possible or not... whether we might be close to that already, or not.

Society in “Fluence” is divided into stratae: at the top, the Reds, kind of a nobility that takes care of its own; at the bottom, the violets, and even lower the whites (people who've opted out of the system for various reasons: disability, being overstressed because of the system, and so on). Both main characters, Amber and Martin, work for a branch meant to deal with requests by various people to become “white”, and the approach taken here is rather chilling, casting a crude light on various questions—money and budget cuts remain, unsurprisingly, weighing factors.

Originally a Violet, Amber managed to climb her way to Yellow a first time, but had to drop back to Green after her first (Orange) husband died. Obsessed by the idea of going back to yellow status, she spends her day acting a role, going out to parties and events she chooses depending on how many “points” they'll earn her, and updating her personal feed so that people will vote for her—basically Facebook-like social networking pushed to the extreme, and let's be honest: isn't that a bit the case already for us today? Couldn't we easily veer towards a similar system at some point?

Meanwhile, Martin is her polar opposite: older, tired of struggling to keep his place at Green level, but feeling forced to it because he wants his family to be happy. His own issues include his growing difficulty to perform well in his job, understanding the points/Fluence game, and his son, not legally adult yet, who's living on the fringe of society and doing shady deals with shady people.

While a bit rough in places, this story was highly entertaining, with more than just one twist that at some point seriously makes you start questioning what you're reading: who's manipulating who, who's betraying who, who's threatening this or that character, who's a real friend or only acting the part to earh yet more points... All this is both somewhat grotesque (the bulimia shows, the obscene parties...) and frighteningly believable (our obsession with ranking, performing well, being under constant scrutiny...). And even though the plot could've been a bit tighter and better defined, in the end it didn't matter that much to me, as I still enjoyed the various scenes and situations the characters went through.

3.5 to 4 stars.