Temi Oh’s YA sci-fi novel ‘More Perfect’ imagines a universal hive mind
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you didn’t have to worry about keyboards or devices to interface with the Internet? Just think about a search term and you have the answer, a map and it pops into your mind.
And wouldn’t the gatekeepers and owners of that platform have incredible powers? Just imagine if Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg had access to your mind and memories directly, not just a large cross-section of your stated desires and interests.
That’s the premise of Temi Oh’s More Perfect—the follow up to Do You Dream of Terra-Two—where the United Kingdom fits almost everyone over the age of 13 with a “Pulse” that connects to the “Panopticon.” The procedure is roughly similar in pain to an ear piercing and, in complexity, like a tooth extraction. But, in outlook, the change is far more radical—connecting everyone with a Pulse to the hive mind.
The novel opens with a 13-year old Moremi going through a Pulse fitting, belatedly. She’s a student and dancer of Nigerian heritage, but she’s English and deeply, personally, rooted in London.
Society regards anyone opposed to these implants, like Moremi’s mother, as a neo-Luddite, treating them with the sort of scorn familiar to any teen trying to resist the “social” media platform du jour. The novel follows her and her family through the events of her early adulthood that shape her and the entire country.
The other main protagonist, Orpheus, grows up on a hidden island with his only companion, his father Warsame. Born in Somalia, Warsame was part of the technology from the start but rebelled deeply against what he saw as its dystopian ramifications. While the novel is sympathetic to that worldview, it presents Warsame as a complex—and dislikable— character.
As suggested by Orpheus’ name and the way the book follows the myth of Eurydice, the advances in technology that allow the Panopticon to exist, also give access to dreams. In fact, you can watch, record and send dreams like immersive videos. They don’t even need consent to transmit dreams into people’s minds. Indeed, without telling him but as part of the state care he receives after someone kills his father, they feed Orpheus other people’s dreams as a way of helping him past his traumatic childhood.
The Panopticon’s other major technological development is the ability to download memories into three-dimensional crystal blocks. This means that people can share experiences and minds, and revisit mass events from a bewildering multiplicity of angles, like Rashomon on steroids. And, through a mixture of AI and these crystals, people can achieve a certain afterlife.
Though the novel is longer that it perhaps needs be, it has a sure-footed and compelling plot and satisfyingly three-dimensional characters. Oh’s ability to bring in experience and culture through the elements of landscape and dance belie her youth.
Although, for an American audience, there are overtones of the celebrated phrase “more perfect union” from the preamble to the Constitution, for this novel set in London, the “more perfect” corresponds to the people and society and the risks associated with those who try to make them “more perfect” irrespective of their will.
The novel itself, Oh’s second, could be “More Perfect,” but it’s still pretty damned good.