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If you had told me a few months ago, that I would end up reading a book that was almost 1000 pages long, I would have laughed at you. My sweet spot is around 350 pages. I rarely venture into books that are longer than 450 pages because I just don’t have that level of concentration and there are always other books calling out to me from my shelves. Even more surprisingly, this beast of a book is an adult sci-fi so wayyyy out of my comfort zone! But with that said, I did actually enjoy the intricacies of this book. There’s a lot going on, in a myriad of different ways and in a LOT of pages but still, overall a very interesting book!
Many thanks to Jamie-Lee at Black Crow PR for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
by Rian Hughes
Date of Publication: 19th August 2021
Format: Paperback (1008 pages)
My Rating: Liked it! 👍
At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past.
Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds ?
XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history.
As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events.
Wrapping stories within stories, Rian Hughes’ XX unleashes the full narrative potential of graphic design. Drawing on Dada, punk and the modernist movements of the twentieth century, it asks us who we think we are – and where we may be headed next.
The battle for your mind has already begun.
Around a year ago, I desperately asked across my social platforms for book recs that had The X Files type vibes. XX would have been a great recommendation for that. Its main character, Jack, definitely reminds me a lot of Mulder with his fierce and unwavering belief in things that he doesn’t fully understand himself. It also has all those typical X Files tropes. First contact. Space exploration. Governments trying to hide the truth. Conspiracy theories. You get the idea! Still, I don’t think I would have been ready to read XX a year ago. It’s a HUGE book that would have intimidated the hell out of me. And honestly, I barely understood it. It’s VERY cerebral. There’s a lot of hard science and technical jargon here that flew over my head. (While I enjoy sci-fi as a genre, science is not my area!)
One thing that I did really enjoy beyond the general storyline is how Hughes builds up this social commentary about ideas, culture, privilege, wokeness, liberalism and conspiracy theories. In many ways, it helped contextualise how people have responded to COVID. I guess people are fairly predictable in the ways that they react to new phenomena that they don’t fully understand with everyone having very strong opinions. In the same way, it also tackled zenophobia and racism as they might apply to the arrival of extra-terrestrials. It certainly gives you a lot to think about beyond just being a first contact type story.
Another highlight is how interactive it is. XX is much more than just words on a page. It has QR codes for you to scan that lead you to music you can stream. There are graphics, e-mails, photographs, transcripts and so much more. So if you’re looking for something different, this book might appeal to you.
I also enjoyed the London setting. As a native Londoner, it was really interesting to see all these familiar locations brought to life. And it helped visualise the text as I guess a sort of subconscious VR? Is that weird? It’s probably a little weird but hey, it worked for me.
While I did enjoy reading XX, I definitely felt like I was in over my head. It challenged me intellectually in many MANY ways. The last 200 odd pages made very little sense to me. I’ve just written that off as the book being intended for readers with a deeper understanding of scientific stuff. But that’s okay!
All in all, an interesting albeit very long book that will appeal to fans of hard sci-fi.
What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? Let me know in the comments!