The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers by John Marrs

Penguin Random House, ebook,

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Eight unhackable self-drive cars have been hacked and set on a collision course with one another, something the British government had assured the public couldn’t happen. Now the special Vehicle Inquest Jury set up to investigate any accidents involving fully automated cars must chose one of the eight to be saved while condemning the other Passengers to their death. And the hackers are broadcasting from inside the cars on social media in all countries because the public are the sixth jury member. But are any of the Passengers who they actually appear on the surface? From the aged movie star to the pregnant teaching assistant, they all have secrets which will sway public opinion against them.

Passengers has a fascinating premise; with our ever-increasing reliance on technology to do things for us, are we any safer? And if we, the faceless public, are tasked with choosing who lives and who dies, would we take the moral high ground and refuse to participate in such a barbaric game, or do we succumb to mob mentality and let our hidden agendas and prejudices take over? My favourite line came from the social media expert brought in to monitor what the world is thinking during the crisis. “Despite threats to their kids’ lives, they still prioritise sharing their fears with the world before they scuttle off to rescue their little ones. Share then react.” In our world where people share every thought and opinion, this struck a chord with me.

If I had any complaint it would have to be the characters themselves. I felt they were two-dimensional. The Minister for Transport is a petulant child who demonstrates no on-screen savvy even though he knew everything he was doing was being streamed across the world leaving me wondering how he ever got elected in the first place. Women were reduced to their worth as a mother, the pregnant woman verses the mother of two kids and the actress who chose not to have children. Not even the main character, Libby, escapes this because despite becoming a voice for the people against the government and their underhand decisions, her attraction two male characters is the vehicle driving the story forward.  

Despite my views on character development, I enjoyed The Passengers. We are told up front that nothing is what it seems. Even when we are giving the secrets the Passengers are hiding, we are cut off from getting the full information to explain their actions, and it was that which kept me turning the pages on a Friday night. And I loved the start of each chapter which comes in the form of a snippet of people’s reactions on social media. From polls to decide which Passenger to die first, to multiple choice quizzes to find out “Which Passenger Are You?” and the newspaper headlines, “SEXY SOFIA! Click here for her best naked movie moments”, Marrs gives us the worst that social media brings out in humanity.

Fast paced and thought-provoking, The Passengers is an exploration of humanity’s addiction to social media and technology, and asks whether it ever does what we expect it to.