Having just finished Airplane Mode, I should probably do something else now, like go outside for some fresh air. Take a walk. Be unplugged. Do anything but write a review on my iPhone. Have we learned nothing, George Orwell?
To whomever (or whatever) is listening, reading, watching, analyzing: be gentle with us. We are but single-consciousness individuals who go about our days and nights glued to screens and gadgets. To wit, we are mostly harmless. Yes, we have our share of problems and faults. But you know that. You know all. Don’t you? So… be cool?
Get a grip. Rewind. We’re reviewing a novel. This is fiction.
In Airplane Mode, questions of privacy, artificial intelligence, personal freedoms, and human rights are all under surveillance and subject to change. From the opening pages where you are immediately sucked in to a mystery, the book never lets you go, even though you’re never exactly sure what’s going on. Not until the end. That’s a big part of the story’s appeal: riding along with Cassandra on this adventure she didn’t even know she was on. Who are these overly paranoid characters she’s meeting and why are they making sense to her? If their crackpot theories continue to be grounded in irrefutable facts, how can she deny them? Maybe she should make herself a tinfoil hat? Maybe you should, too.
The protagonist, Cassandra, is so well-drawn (including some of her questionable, naive behaviors) that you often feel like you are her. Like countless accidental literary heroes before her, she is taking every new step into the unknown, along with the reader. With a looming, mysterious foe always present behind the screen, you fear for her and, quite honestly, yourself and all of humanity, throughout. Because you’re as much a part of this tale as Bastian in The Neverending Story. You don’t have to go far to realize you could be living it. It wouldn’t take much. The threat is right there, all around you and in your hands.
Or is that your greatest ally?
It is terribly challenging to talk about this novel without delving into spoilers. If you have a penchant for Big Brother type books like Dave Eggers’ The Circle, go read Airplane Mode now. Not only is it a thriller in the best sense of the word, it’s also a timely and important think-piece for heading into 2020 and beyond.
By now, many of us know that our data is being analyzed by human-written algorithms with the intent to make us better consumers. But what if there’s more to it than targeted advertising? What if we are inadvertently creating some super intelligence that could wipe us out? The cloud is growing and becoming more and more hazy. Our new, Technology-infused dependence should, at bare minimum, be respected.
Listen, this story is unsettling and terrifying and yet it still manages to take a reassuring turn or two when you least expect it. Downing shares an insight that perhaps you’d never imagined. The character of Georgina, I believe, is one I’ve never encountered in literature before — an empathetic outlier luminary on the brink of symbiotic wellness. Yeah. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Print a bumper sticker that reads “I believe Georgina” and I’ll slap it on my wagon.
Entertaining to a fault, Airplane Mode does have some minor eyebrow raising beats that are explored and explained in further detail before it is through. Ahem, pepper spray? I hope that’s not a spoiler.
It is also not exactly an action-packed, moment-to-moment nail biter of a book. There are many long, drawn out conversations where characters expertly discuss no less than the probable end of the world as we know it. If that’s not interesting enough for you and you want nonstop explosions and mayhem, then I don’t know what to tell you. Move along, I guess. There’s nothing to see here. This will all be deleted as soon as you’ve absorbed it. It is for your eyes only, reader. If you get nothing else from this shoddy book review, please know that if you download the digital version of Airplane Mode, you might end up wishing you’d bought the paperback because, well…
Print may be dying but at least it isn’t alive.