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The Passengers

The Passengers

John Marrs
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The Passengers is set in the not-too-distant future around the Birmingham area and initially seems to be a science fiction story but there is a lot more in store involving the media, the morals of those who use social media, power struggles, and the realisation that the whole thing is also a thriller. It is interesting to note that the book has an alternative title “Eight Intended Victims. Who Lives, Who Dies? You Decide” which actually gives an indication of something to do with part of the story.

The frontispiece consists only of the name, date of birth and date of death of the first person to be killed by a car in the United Kingdom. Using that information on the internet also leads to the name of the first person to be killed by a “self drive” car, one which actually had a human, manual override system.

It all starts with the news that driverless cars are to be the future in the UK and that older manual override vehicles will no longer be allowed on the roads and then moves on to the first part which considers eight passengers setting out on journeys on the same day. The passengers are; an ageing television star, a husband and wife, a housewife, a disabled veteran, a pregnant woman, an illegal immigrant and a man who has previously been given to suicidal thoughts, though each of them seems to possess some sort of hidden secret making them not all they seem to be. In each case, after setting off, the passengers find they no longer have any control over what their vehicle is doing. Nor are they able to contact anyone outside the car.

An essential character is a woman called Libby who has been required to attend as a juror for an inquest involving a driverless car and a pedestrian. For certain reasons Libby is not in favour of completely autonomous vehicles and soon finds herself in conflict with other members of the jury and the foreman an MP named Jack Larsson.

The jurors and the passengers suddenly find themselves as the centrepiece of social media when it is realised the whole operating system has been hacked and the passengers are each advised that in some two and a half hours it is most likely they will be dead. At this point the hacker involves more people worldwide so that everyone who uses social media can see what is happening and may vote as to which of the passengers are to survive. The jurors and passengers are also involved in the displays and voting which presents a somewhat bizarre situation where a quite frightening aspect of mob rule begins to prevail.

At this point a large part of the remainder of the content of the book is almost in real-time (depending on the speed of the reader) where there are people deciding who may live and passengers each making a case as to why they should be the one to live. Meanwhile the relevant authorities are trying to find out where and when this will all happen as well as attempting to discover who is doing the hacking.

The story now exhibits many twists and only in the very last couple of pages is it possible to estimate what is going to happen. It is a book which is very difficult to put down because of the real-time aspect and the intention of reading just a little more to find out what happens. Needless to say the story raises all sorts of questions for those who may wish to relate this to real life in terms of social media, race, morals, autonomous cars, and the only energy being electricity.

At the end of the book the Acknowledgements give a clue as to the characters used by the author in previous books but toward the very end is reference to an unusual website which allows readers to play being the supreme adjudicator making decisions concerning road users. It is interesting to see the results.

It is definitely worth reading as pure thinking fiction, enjoyable for all that.

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