A dystopian novel, set in an underground station? What’s not to love? Kid by Sebastian de Souza is set on a shattered Earth in the year 2078. For the majority life is utopian. For a few, it’s hard and brutal. Like most good dystopian novels, Kid: A History of the Future is the story of the few. And it’s an absolute cracker.
What is Kid: A History of the Future?
First up I’m not entirely sure what the book is called. Is it just Kid? or does the whole subtitle come with it? On the cover, it’s not a subtitle as it appears above the main title. To be honest, it’s not important, though it can be tricky to find out anything about the book if you just type “kid” into search engines. Whilst I’m talking about the cover, it’s probably worth mentioning that the front of the book has an iPhone-shaped hole in it. I’m a bit of a sucker for quirkily cut covers, so score 1 to Kid!
Google: Always has our best interest at heart, right? Innovates for our benefit, correct? Just like “Perspecta” in the novel. In Kid, “Perspecta” has become everybody’s favorite search engine, ISP entertainment medium, and virtual reality setting. And then law enforcement, government subsidizer; everything really that ensured smooth running of society. Well not really society because now almost everybody is installed into Perspecta itself. A huge sprawling virtual reality system that, you never need to leave. The most advanced sets take care of feeding and the other end without users ever having to leave the game. This transition will begin in the next few years, so watch out!
Beyond that are the “Offliners.” A small group of rebels, who live outside of Perpsecta. It’s a world that is crumbling, a planet that is horridly polluted, but being outside of the system is a freedom of sorts. Josh “Kid” Jones lives in an Offliner settlement beneath Piccadilly Circus in London. Due to horrendous air pollution the inhabitants of this underground network, barely ever come to the surface, but thanks to the use of some breathing apparatus and drugs, Josh often goes above ground.
Here, he has the run of an almost deserted London. Almost deserted, because it has a variety of characters, settings, and a black market infrastructure. It soon becomes apparent that Perspecta owners, Gnosys, have plans for the Offliners, and, inevitably, they are not good. When Josh powers up an ancient iPhone that belonged to his father he discovers it has an unimaginable link with the past. A link that may free the Offliners or may damn them to be wiped from the Earth.
Why Read Kid: A History of the Future?
This is a hugely readable novel. It’s like a dystopian Dickens set on the grimy decaying streets of London. Dickens with quantum entanglement. Without spoiling things too much, Kid is also a COVID novel, the first I’ve read to reference the pandemics and lockdown. This feeds into the eventual collapse of society. I do hope author De Souza is not a clairvoyant; tough times are ahead, if so.
There’s lots of great ideas in Kid, as well as a wonderful depiction of a shattered London. If you know the city at all, there is much to love about the book even without the story. And what a story. It is, in essence, a mystery. The key to it being Josh’s father and why he left him the phone.
Despite being a chunky 600+ pages, Kid won’t take you very long to read. It’s broken into easily devourable chapters, with each one leaving you begging for more. There are all sorts of threads woven into the story, from Dickensian gin palaces to repurposed department stores. Gangs of street kids and highly intelligent AI. Megastar actresses and a visit to the houses of parliament. It’s a riot of imagination. Oh and there are tube trains, did I mention that? I’m a metro transport geek, so I found the Picadilly Circus setup particularly entertaining.
The book is complete but open-ended, so there are chances for more “Offliner” novels. Whether the series will continue, I’m not sure. In some ways, I’d rather it didn’t. I feel like a book this audacious might be difficult to follow up. Nevertheless, wherever and whenever it is set, should Sebastian De Souza write another book, I’ll definitely be picking it up. Kid: A History of the Future is yet another great book, in what is proving to be a stellar year for fiction.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other reviews, here.