With a futuristic setting and a highly advanced form of technology forming the basis for this dramatic short story, the risks were always going to be high in terms of targeting a responsive audience. Mary Chapman creates a future where we are told what to do by computers as opposed to thinking for ourselves. However, in this story, the computers get a virus!
Straight away, Chapman introduces us to the technological aspect, with LOPs (Life Organisation Planners) telling us to get up, wash, eat, etc. Sje introduces us to the main character, Penna, who finds that her LOP is malfunctioning, and turning to the nearest person, finds conversation awkward - it appears talking is no longer necessary in this future, either! This nearest person is Veeka, and together they find Queltus, who seems to know a worrying amount of detail about how the LOPs work and how they can be amended and altered.
The plot is a little hard to follow, if I'm honest. It took me a few moments to get my head round the futuristic and almost 'Big Brother' nature of controlling aspects of our lives that we take for granted, in particular the decision making process. Issues of trust come into the story quite quickly, and added to the new technology side of things, it certainly doesn't make for the easiest short story I have ever read.
But it's quite clever, too. Once you get into the story, and give yourself a few moments here and there to take in the story and the events happening within it, you soon realise that the point is that there is a virus that is causing these LOPs to malfunction, and that they're going to have to do things by themselves anyway. It's almost a nudge to techno whizzes who might be trying something like this, saying that no matter what technology is thrust our way to try and do things for us, we'll always retain our ability to think for ourselves, LOP or no LOP.
Other than the issues I have already raised, there was nothing else about the book that irked me. I just felt, having read it, that it's definitely the sort of short story you need to allow yourself time to read. There's no use hurtling in like you may be able to do with other similar stories. This one requires a bit more thinking. In fact, it requires a bit more than Chapman's other shorts do, as well. Her writing style is very smooth and easy to read, and I like the way she uses conversation to progress the story and the characters at the same time.
I suppose, in the end, the futuristic element and the technological imagination overcame me, and I found that, despite appreciating good writing style, the story probably wasn't for me. It's well written indeed, and the story finds its way to a natural and well conceived conclusion, but it's perhaps not the sort of thing I would have read in the first place, with hindsight. It was kind of interesting seeing a view on what may happen to us in the future, but I didn't feel I gained anything from the reading experience of it.
Virus is part of the Shades series of short stories. Like the other publications in the series, it has a lovely front cover with different textures and visual reflection in places. I find this makes the book appealing in the first place, and makes me want to pick it up and run my hand over it, just to appreciate a quality cover. As short stories go in the series, it runs in at 64 pages, which is pretty standard. I felt this could almost be the sort of story which could transfer quite well onto a longer written format, perhaps as a novella, or say 150-200 pages, as the story could do with a bit more time to let the reader develop it in their own mind. However, it's a good concept, well written, and still a decent read. Available from amazon.co.uk for £3.99, this is probably not one for me as a general rule, but if this sort of plotline is your sort of thing, then I recommend it.