Followers by Megan Angelo, Jayme Mattler
Published by Graydon House
Publication date: January 14, 2020
In 2015 two young women desperate for fame and followers help break the internet. Orla wants to be an author, but in order to survive in NYC she works at a TMZ-like site writing clickbait about celebrities. Her roommate is Floss, a pretty girl with a beautiful voice, but getting into the music business takes too much work so she’s going the social media route. In 2051 a portion of California is the home to a government run community, Constellation, where ‘celebrities’ are filmed every minute of every day for the rest of America to watch. Marlow has lived there for as long as she can remember, but starts to realize she wants out. This is the eerily realistic dystopia of Megan Angelo’s Followers.
Life in 2051 is an uber-heightened version of life in 2020. In 2016 the internet was hacked globally, causing The Spill, laying bare every byte of information loaded on loaded on personal or corporate servers and especially social media. The havoc wreaked was so devastating that the government stepped in, promising connectivity with security. The device was born. A small chip affixed to the wrist that removed the need for electronic equipment. Everything in life is handled by simply thinking it—no phones, iPads, no screens. What is not made clear is that every thought is a piece of data and now, rather than corporations, the government is mining it. Feeling depressed? You’ll soon see an ad suggesting you take Hysteryl, an anti-depressant that Marlow has been on since she was a teenager. Because, of course, corporations are tied into this—the government needs ad revenue to keep the project going. Even better, Marlow’s husband is a Hysteryl executive and the more the drug sells the bigger the perks. It’s only when Marlow learns that her next life event is to get pregnant that she begins to think about leaving. Except it’s not allowed.
If Marlow is ensnared in a fishbowl life (ala The Truman Show) then Orla and Floss are two of the people who helped make it happen. Orla wants out of a dead-end job and Floss wants to be famous. Neither wants to work very much. They begin to script Floss’s life for maximum social impact. At first, it’s innocuous—showing up on every red carpet, provocative clothes and behavior, but when one really sketchy incident turns into a meme and gives Floss a superstar boyfriend and their own television show, both women are hooked. Endorsements and products flood their tiny apartment. The positive reinforcement for sleaze pushes their actions lower, while the need for more and more followers in order to keep the freebies and attention coming leads them to fake follower generators. A vicious circle that expands like the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb.
I am alternately fascinated and creeped out by fictional future worlds and Followers is no exception. Too much use of personal screens causing a catatonic state that comes and goes until the ability to think at all is lost? The government taking over our minds for their own gains? Even how The Spill happened (which I won’t spoil for you)—none of it sounds out of the realm of possibility. Angelo teases out the hows and whys slowly, allowing the reader to slip into a space of intrigue—for how easy life could be—and apprehension—for the Kardashian-like obsession with fame and where it leads us. There’s only a small bobble towards the end where Followers pushes a point a bit far (even if I agreed). Beyond that Followers has a can’t-look-away train wreck feeling that is wildly entertaining. Which is kind of what Angelo is warning us about, but I fell for it anyway. Well-done.
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