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Synopsis via Goodreads: Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.
She is sixteen years old.
Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive supercomputer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.
Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.
What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, and death and everything they thought they really believed.
I’d like to thank the author David Meredith for a complimentary copy of his novel Aaru in exchange for an honest review.
What if we could live forever? David Meredith, author of the thought-provoking novel Aaru is certainly not the first person to ask this question. But it’s his answer that evokes an insightful and disturbing discussion of the problems that humanity may face if the dead didn’t actually stay dead. As this book is of the science fiction persuasion, the question Meredith poses is more along the lines of what would happen if we could have ourselves uploaded into a virtual world after death where we still had the ability to contact our loved ones?
It all sounds very sunshine and rainbows and it certainly is for the first portion of Aaru. Following a visit from a strange man prior to her death from leukaemia, Rose ‘awakens’ to find herself in a fairytale world called Aaru. The world is beautiful, can be shaped by Rose’s will, and best of all, Aaru is free from the disease that killed her. The technology that created Aaru even allows Rose’s sister Koren to communicate with her via a computer in their old shared bedroom. It all seems perfect. And after a while, both Rose and her sister suspect it might be too good to be true.
While Aaru explores ideas of life after death, it also brings to light the horrors of the entertainment industry and the treatment, exposure, and sexualisation of underaged girls. In exchange for saving her sister, Rose’s sister Koren is encouraged by the company that created Aaru to be their spokesperson through television ads, late-night show interviews, and the preparation of a reality show. It’s through this exposure that Koren becomes involved in a dark and disturbing series of events that make her question what her family has become involved in. Some of the themes presented in Aaru that explore these ideas might be disturbing to readers (they certainly were to me), but it’s all part of the grander discussion that Meredith puts forth in his novel.
I thought about this book long after I finished reading it — certainly a good sign. David Meredith is a great storyteller and world builder who I believe, through continual work at his craft, will become quite popular among the science fiction community.
There were, however, a few criticisms that all boil down to personal taste. I struggled a bit with the novel’s main villain Magic Man. I felt his appearance in the novel was a bit late. I understand that this book will be part of a series and that the world-building aspect of Aaru needed to be established, but I felt as though the book’s antagonist wasn’t brought into the story early enough to have the proper impact. Having said that, I applaud Meredith’s creation of this character as I without a doubt despised him. Magic Man is a villain that can’t be sympathised with and is evil to his core while also being believable enough that you might hear about his terrible deeds on the evening news. It’s just a shame that his threat wasn’t established earlier on.
My other criticism is in regards to the written dialogue. An interesting part of Aaru is how the creation of the virtual world is an international endeavour with scientists participating from countries around the world. It’s always nice to read a book that isn’t quite as American-centric. However, characters from many different geographic backgrounds oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with a pet-peeve of mine: written dialects. This means that a character, one of them being a prominent member of the organisation that created Aaru, has his dialogue written with ‘da’ instead of the ‘the’. I know a lot of people don’t mind this style of dialogue writing but its something that always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This by no means occurs often enough for me to stop reading and is really only specific to one character.
Overall, I really enjoyed Aaru as it was a unique and creative twist on an age-old question. I applaud Meredith’s worldbuilding and characters and the numerous moral question posed throughout his novel. I recommend this book to fans of science fiction and fantasy and to anyone looking for a unique story from a self-published author. I look forward to seeing how Meredith develops as a writer and where his career takes him. And most importantly I look forward to the next book in the Aaru Cycle!