Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Echo Boy

Echo Boy

Matt Haig
For ages 13 and up
Random House UK, 2014   ISBN: 978-0552568609

The nightmare began on a very ordinary day. As usual Audrey had lessons with Alissa, the family Echo (Enhanced Computerized Humanoid Organism), working on Mandarin and Climatology. This was followed by a double lesson on twenty-first-century history in the immersion pod.

   These days, in 2115, people’s lives are very different from those experienced by humans a hundred years ago. The world’s climate has changed radically and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Robots and Echos do a lot of the work that humans used to do, and vehicles can transport people as such great speeds that Audrey can visit a friend in Canada for the evening. Devices can be placed in the eyes or can be connected to the brain so that people can communicate and gather information with the blink of an eye or with the flash of a thought. 

  Audrey’s father thinks that all this technology is going too far, that humans are losing their humanity. He feels that there is a good chance that a day will come when Echos will become sentient and decide that they don’t want to share Earth with their human masters any longer. He never wanted to buy an Echo for the family in the first place, but his wife and daughter convinced him that it would be a good idea.

   On that dreadful day, Audrey comes out of her three hour session in the immersion pod to find that the house is completely quiet. Her parents are home and yet she cannot hear a single thing. Audrey starts searching the house and eventually she finds her parents. Both are dead; stabbed by Alissa. Echos are supposed to do whatever their masters tell them to do and they are supposed to be completely safe, and yet something has gone terribly wrong with this Echo. Alissa attacks Audrey but the teenager manages to escape first by jumping out of a window, and then by getting into the family car. Soon after Audrey escapes - after hitting Alissa with the car to get away from her - her uncle, Alex Castle, calls her on the car’s holophone. As soon as he hears what has happened, he has the car take Audrey to his house in London.

   Uncle Alex is an incredibly successful business man whose company produces thousands of Echos in factories all over the world. Audrey’s father did not approve of Alex’s company and he often spoke out against the products and projects that Alex created. Needless to say this led to the brothers having a rather strained relationship, but Alex seems to be genuinely sorry that his brother was murdered, and he goes out of his way to take care of the traumatized Audrey. He even makes a point of keeping his Echos away from her as she is now, not surprisingly, terrified of all Echos. At first Audrey is willing to trust her uncle, but as the days go by she begins to feel that he is keeping things from her and she starts trying to better understand who her uncle is and what he does.

   One of Alex’s Echos is a prototype of what Alex believes is “the most advanced Echo ever made.” His name is Daniel and something about him is different. His eyes are not empty like those of other Echos. Daniel keeps trying to make contact with Audrey, and Alex and his other Echos seem determined to keep him away from her. After what happened to her parents, Audrey is fearful of Daniel and is convinced that he is malfunctioning. Then, when anti-Echo demonstrators attack and infiltrate Alex’s home, Daniel does something that makes Audrey realize that he is not just an Echo. Daniel is a something else, and Alex Castle is not the benevolent uncle she thought he was.

   This often chilling futuristic novel takes readers into a future that on the surface seems rather wonderful, but which we come to realize is a very dark and desperate place, a place where the gap between the haves and the have nots is very wide indeed. The author explores the idea that perhaps technological advances do not always advance society in a positive way, and that sometimes we have should consider the possible ramifications of our technological innovations before we create them.