I don’t often read thrillers, but This Eden by Ed O’Loughlin is anything but a conventional page-turner. This vaguely sci-fi noir book drips with paranoia, each chapter sweeping the rug out from under our feet.
The setting jumps from continent to continent, taking us from Canada to Silicon Valley to the heart of the Mediterranean, and to the foggy shores of Ireland.
But, if this is a thriller, why is it classified as a sci fi book review? Well, the book’s not exactly just a thriller. Yeah, it’s psychologically-trippy, but the whole thing reeks of evil tech. Like, E-Corp from Mr. Robot evil, like, societal domination evil. And of course, there’s a nice little sci fi twist that I’ll leave for you to discover.
This Eden by Ed O’Loughlin was published in June 2021, and was O’Loughlin’s fourth book. Before becoming an author, O’Loughlin worked for 20 years in journalism, including working as a foreign correspondent in Africa and the Middle East.
This Eden deviates from his previous books. It’s been described as “smart modern-day adventure reminiscent of both the cyber noir novels of William Gibson and the golden age of espionage fiction,” whereas O’Loughlin’s other books have all tackled imminent real-world problems, like drone warfare or African politics. His third book, Minds of Winter, was a historical mystery novel about polar exploration.
Despite stepping into relatively new waters, O’Loughlin crafts a realistic and frightening grim world in This Eden.
The book follows Michael, an engineering school dropout who is grieving the loss of his coder girlfriend, Alice. Michael gets sucked into the world’s biggest tech company, Inscape, as a middleman between shadow operatives and the company’s head, Campbell Fess.
But when things go sour, Michael goes on the run with Aoife, an Irish spy, and Towse, a permanently disheveled hacker. As they run from Inscape Michael and Aoife begin to question Towse’s intentions, and just exactly who he is. NSA? FBI? Is he even American at all?
All they know is that the clock is ticking, and Campbell Fess’ new cryptocurrency is set to dominate the world economy, and only Towse knows how to stop it.
Creating a Modern-Day Cyberpunk Noir
Hacktivist sentiments wreathed in cigarette smoke converge under dark, Irish bridges and in abandoned Canadian payphones. A hitchhike across Europe is wrought with paranoia and despair; the streets of Paris are so close, a respite from bland countryside, yet unattainable.
A lot of This Eden is based on the untouchable, the intangible. Michael doesn’t know the details of Alice’s death, his parents’ deaths, of even why he’s a part of Towse’s gang to begin with.
And that sentiment is reflected in a lot of the book’s subject matter. Cryptocurrency, something we’ve all heard about and few of us understand. COVID-19, a virus we can’t see but all at once seemed to take control of all of our lives. Religions that are hard to fathom shaping our outlooks and our opinions.
This Eden imagines the dystopian cyberpunk worlds that Gibson and Stephenson wrote about years ago, but it places it firmly in 2020. Coming out of a month-long Internet detox, Michael and Aoife emerge into a world unfamiliar to them, with people wearing masks and pubs closed down on Friday nights.
But it gets weirder for the pair.
The villain they’ve been running from this whole time, big tech, isn’t actually the villain. It’s the puppet of evil money. And no, that’s not a metaphor. The money funneling through the bank accounts of Campbell Fess and his associates is literally evil.
Whether Ed O’Loughlin is making a cheeky commentary on the state of our world, or if he’s just picking out warning signs and extrapolating, the idea hits hard. Cyberpunk for a long time has raged against capitalism and the people behind it. Well, for Michael and Aoife, the people are a front, and capitalism is money itself.
It’s a nice take on the traditional cyberpunk themes, and is hauntingly similar to our current geo-political, economic state.
Experimenting With Voice
Right away, readers will notice that This Eden has a very particular voice. The story is told from a seemingly third-person omniscient narrator, even though they aren’t actually omniscient. They are pretty darn close, though, siting security cam footage of Michael, Aoife, and Towse, Internet activity, credit card transactions—the whole nine yards.
And what the narrator can’t see, they fill in the blanks. In this way, it’s uncertain what’s fact and what’s an educated guess. This makes the story interesting to read, not just from a content standpoint.
The way the story is told gives the reader a sinking suspicious and a paranoia of their own. Is there some omniscient narrator out there telling my story by reading my emails, tracking my phone, watching what I stream on Netflix?
I certainly think Ed O’Loughlin hit the nail on the head with this novel, and I’m excited to see what he writes next. I doubt there will be a sequel to This Eden, but I’m sure his next book will be just as riveting.
At the end of the day, I give This Eden a 9/10. The buildup is excellent, the story is well-thought out, but I felt the ending lacked the luster the rest of the story had. Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt like not enough was explained in the last few pages.
Other than that, the book was great, and a must read for anyone looking to bridge the gap between traditional espionage fiction into the weird world of cyberpunk noir crime.
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