I read this book with the Pigeonhole book club in return for an honest review. This means you get a stave to read a day, usually around 10% of the novel at a time. It’s a really nice way to read a book as you get to break it into chunks and discuss each stave with other ‘pigeons’ reading at the same time as you – however with this book, 10% per day just wasn’t enough!
Before ‘The Passengers’ John Marrs wrote the creepy and all-too-possible bestseller ‘The One’, which was a stonking good read and actually makes its way into this novel a few times by way of reference. It’s not a sequel though, so don’t worry, you don’t need to have read ‘The One’ to enjoy ‘The Passengers’.
The book starts somewhere in the future, maybe 20-30 years from now, when we are in an age of self-drive cars of various levels – some with a level of autonomy, some with none at all, right down to not having a manual override. When infrequent accidents happen, a long-standing jury along with a representative member of the public, meet to discuss the incidents and decide whether or not the car or the passenger/victim of any accident were at fault, and depending on the outcome, blame is apportioned and compensation paid or withheld.
Libby is invited to be the regular ‘member of the public’ to sit on the jury – for a week. She has a history of protesting against the increase of self-driving cars after witnessing a horrific accident resulting in the death of innocent bystanders, and she is understandably nervous about the part she has to play in the upcoming hearings. On her first day, however, proceedings are interrupted by a hacker patching in a live feed to the courtroom where he informs the court that there are 8 self-drive cars that are currently under his control, all set on a fatal collision course. The 8 cars contain people from various different backgrounds, a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife running away from her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. The twist in the tale is that this is about to become the ultimate reality TV show – literally, car crash TV. The eight will be put to the vote and the public will decide who will live and who will die.
The Passengers is a very clever premise, not least because of the potential that technology has to change the way we live beyond our comprehension, but also because it taps into the darker underbelly of the Internet, of social media identities, and how people can be painted in so many different ways. It feels like a comment on the way the media, and people of influence can be skewing your point of view by playing to your biases, or your preconceptions – even ones you didn’t realise you had. It also brings to the fore the unpalatable truth about mob mentality – how groups of people can make each other think that unacceptable behaviour is entirely acceptable – because everyone else is doing it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and had it not been coming through in 10% a day, I’d have devoured it in one go. A really gripping read.