When it comes to short eBooks that you can buy for less than the price of a coffee, there’s no way of knowing what to expect. It might be best £1.50 you ever spent, or it might be the most horrendously written piece of cringe-worth fan fiction that ever tried to pass itself off as an original novel (or it might be both, if your tastes are so inclined).
The Children by Robert Jamison falls somewhere comfortably in the middle of those two extremes. It is a dark science fiction story set in the not-too-distant future that fills almost fifty pages. It’s a quick read that definitely provokes thought, but doesn’t leave a lot of space to explore it a whole lot.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much the same premise as the fourth season Black Mirror episode, Archangel. The story doesn’t progress in quite the same way, though, and the details about the implant and its social repurcussions are either completely different or not mentioned in the story at all.
It doesn’t describe how the implant works or what the science involved requires. Through the events of the story alone, it seems as if the implant was simply a mobile phone stored in the brain without any of the more complex features of the Black Mirror version.
When the implant is initially fitted, the pre-school aged Tessa takes to it right away. She loves sending messages to her parents and chatting with her friends from the comfort of her room. But her behaviour soon changes in a way that alarms her parents and her teacher.
Tessa’s parents, along with the parents of other implanted children, pressure the company behind the technology to investigate what it is doing to their children. This section raises questions about how it was ever legal to implant children with technology that hadn’t been properly tested.
While they’re still working everything out, all the children escape their babysitters and run away. Somehow, the tracking systems built into their implants have been disabled and none of the children respond to desperate messages from their parents begging them to come home.
Eventually, Tessa reaches out to her father, summoning him to their hideout. There, the children reveal to him that they now share a consciousness, that Tessa as her family knew her no longer exists. They are prepared to kill for their freedom to live as a hive mind community.
There are plenty of points in this story that leave it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in. It doesn’t mention any kind of regulation of this kind of implant or even any consequences for those who invented it or chose to use it.
Jamison definitely has a skill for creating a creepy atmosphere. The idea of murderous psychic children let loose on the world is a chilling one.
As a standalone book, there is a lot missing from this story. There is plenty of room to elaborate on interesting concepts that the book leaves you to explore fully on your own. However, The Children feels like it could be an excellent launching point for a bigger story. Technologically enhanced psychotic children finding their place in the world – as heroes? As villains? – could surely capture people’s imaginations. Whether or not the technology or the societal elements make total sense can be easily overlooked if Jamison goes on to create a more developed future for these mentally conjoined children.
There are plenty of things that could be improved upon in this story. But for such a low price, there are certainly worse ways you could idle away a lunch break.