Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

I would like to thank Lydia from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £7.99

When Lucie Sterling’s niece is abducted, she knows it won’t be easy to find answers. Stanton is no ordinary city; invasive digital technology has been banned, by public vote. No surveillance state, no shadowy companies holding databases of information on private citizens, no phones tracking their every move.

Only one place stands firmly anchored in the bad old ways, in a huge bunker across town: Green Valley, where the inhabitants have retreated into the comfort of full-time virtual reality – personae non gratae to the outside world. And its inside Green valley, beyond the ideal virtual world it presents, that Lucie will have to go to find her missing niece.

One of the biggest concerns this decade digital technology and our society will exist with each other. A few years ago, it was government surveillance but now we have companies with the wealth and influence of small countries themselves reaping huge amounts of data. As we’ve seen digital technology can influence voting and this week, we all saw a fake Mark Zuckerberg created in digital form explaining his evil mastermind. That time pointed satire but our concept of reality is blurring, and, on the horizon, the next versions of VR and augmented reality are awaiting to show us new delights and terrors. In Louis Greenberg’s darkly gripping science fiction thriller we see a near future world where we have decided to retreat from digital and go back to a simpler way…but not everyone agreed and now one investigator has a disturbing case close to home to unpick.

Lucie Sterling lives near Green Valley. Now known as the Turn nearly all of society rejected the use of digital surveillance and associated technology. The net was banned; credit cards no longer used; CCTV outlawed all bar one area where a company called zeroth owned a campus. It’s employees and advocates wanted to remain plugged in and over a three-mile area the former company campus was concreted over, and the residents lived in augmented VR – never to be seen in public again. But Lucie is alerted to three children being found dead in the streets of Stanton; no id, unusual technology implanted in them and no obvious cause of death – this all points to the children coming from Green Valley and not many people knew that Lucie’s sister Odille was married to one of Zeroth’s directors and they had a child Kira who had moved in. Lucie must balance her family concerns with her role of a shadowy agency called Sentinel that looks out for digital abuses. The deaths provide her bosses an opportunity to infiltrate but Lucie may end up putting one loyalty above another.

This is an extremely and appropriately immersive thriller largely told through Lucie’s point of view. She is ambivalent about exactly how much of an improvement the Turn generated. Its clear that in the future the digital companies went even further in their mining of our information and could find out anything they wanted about us. But Lucie notes that police investigations without CCTV or even banking records makes solving murders harder. It’s a disconcerting world which some readers won’t even recognise - no electronic doors, rotary phones and punch cards for your bank. When Lucie is allowed into green Valley and hooked up to ‘The I’ (their VR processing device) she sees a lively and beautiful village where all sensations are real. But David seems evasive and his new partner after Lucie’s sister died is hostile and there are three creepy ghost software children in their house. Lucie suffers a blackout and when she leaves is certain something stranger is going on. The reader must decide which reality is better and perhaps it’s my bias, but I did see a little why Green Valley would be tempting when the alternative feels like the 70’s.

Understandably with the subject matter involving the deaths of children this is not a relaxing read but Greenberg via the use of VR allows to add a layer of dark weirdness to the narrative. As well as Green valley being too good to be rue Lucie starts to feel even outside the VR world that someone is watching, and this seems to be a bloodied, malevolent black ram that she crossed paths within the digital reality. We start to doubt if Lucie is actually fully in control of herself and this makes you rather suspicious that everything is not as it seems – the final third of the books where Lucie starts to delve under the digital world is extremely unsettling and drifts very near into horror as we realise finally what has been going on. Its brilliantly done and I found myself getting increasingly nervous as I feared for Lucie’s safety.

It’s a disturbing but enthralling read that has some good commentary on our love and loathing of what technology can bring to our lives. I was extremely impressed how the tale gets so tense so quickly and with horror aspects that are all rationally explained…eventually. I would be intrigued if Greenberg returns to this world again; there are a few hints there are many more stories to be told in this world, but this story feels satisfyingly very standalone. Fans of Laura Lam’s cyberpunk thrillers and Black Mirror who enjoy a mix of crime, science fiction and a dash of horror should all be picking this up.

green valley.jpg