A USER’S GUIDE TO MAKE-BELIEVE By Jane Alexander
Allison and Busby, h/b, £14.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
What is Make-Believe? It’s a vast virtual reality world where you can be who you want, do what you want and unleash your deepest, most hidden desires. Created by Imagen, the stereotypical big corporate that everyone loves, but probably has a deep distrust of. Make-Believe primarily becomes the playground of the rich, and thanks to the many safeguards built into it by its responsible creators, it could never be over-used, resulting in addiction. Or could it?
Cassie McAllister used to work in the marketing team at Imagen, but left in unknown, but definitely shady circumstances having managed to do the supposedly impossible and become addicted to Make-Believe. Now disgraced, she lives on the breadline, infrequently attends group therapy for addicts, earning money by providing “academic services” (aka writing essays for students) and trying not to think too much about the man she loved, Alan, who has retreated inside his own head and resides in a care facility for the mentally ill. When she starts to make a connection between Imagen and the care facility that Alan is in, believing there to be a connection, she starts to investigate the connection, risking prison and her own sanity as she tries to prove that Imagen have been illegally trialling using Make-Believe on mentally ill patients.
The author’s research into the marketing techniques used by many technology companies is used to good effect to give a feeling of a real possibility of this sort of thing happening. When you agree to what are generally unread terms and conditions to use a piece of technology, what are you actually agreeing to – what can they see, what can they monitor, control and keep ownership of? She keeps the action and the paranoia flowing throughout the novel, as her very human-seeming protagonist Cassie makes mistakes, but tries to correct them. Making Cassie question herself, and leaving her wondering if anyone she knows can be trusted.
Jane Alexander’s debut novel is a cracking read – she has created the sort of paranoid fantasy about a technology being used for nefarious purposes that could easily be found in the many forums frequented by conspiracy theorists. If you’re a fan of online gaming and social media, have a read of this, and then go and re-read the T&Cs for every service you’ve signed up for – just to be on the safe side.