Book Review

CTRL S by Andy Briggs

ctrl s

Life in the near future’s NOT ALL BAD. We’ve reversed global warming, and fixed the collapsing bee population. We even created SPACE, a virtual-sensory universe where average guys like Theo Wilson can do almost anything they desire.

But ALMOST ANYTHING isn’t enough for some. Every day, normal people are being taken, their emotions harvested – and lives traded – to create death-defying thrills for the rich and twisted.

NOW THEO’S MOTHER HAS DISAPPEARED. And as he follows her breadcrumb trail of clues, he’ll come up against the most dangerous SPACE has to offer: vPolice, AI Bots and anarchists – as well as a criminal empire that will KILL TO STOP HIM finding her…

The concept behind CTRL S is fantastic.  Set in the near future, everything is about SPACE – a virtual reality accessed via a headset that allows people to socialise as well as take part in games.  While most people use SPACE for little more than socialising, there is a small minority of users who want to use SPACE to act out their own perverted desires.  And where there is demand, there will always be those who will make it possible, for the right price.  Theo and his friends are dragged into this darker side of SPACE when Theo’s mum, Ella, goes missing, and they get pulled into a world they didn’t even know existed.

Theo and his friends – Clemmie, Milton, and Baxter – are fantastic.  They’re a bit geeky, and don’t really seem cut out for the events they find themselves in, but I loved the camaraderie between them and their determination against the odds.  Theo has had a more difficult life than his friends, and was forced to forgo university in order to get a job and help his mum with her ever-increasing debts.  It’s a tale of potential quashed by circumstance, and it’s makes him a character that is easy to sympathise with as the reader comes to understand the sacrifice he’s made and why.  I can’t not mention Clemmie in a little more detail.  She’s such a kickass heroine who, thanks to her police officer father, knows a little more than her male counterparts.  She’s nothing like the token female I was worried I might find when first introduced to Theo’s friends, and I loved her brave and selfless attitude.

CTRL S is set in a richly imagined world – both in virtual and real-world terms.  While SPACE is widely considered a brilliant innovation, there are those who have concerns about it.  Spending too long immersed in SPACE can adversely affect health and wellbeing, and there are time limits in place to negate those risks.  Similarly, some businesses have forbidden the use of headsets, encouraging their clientele to engage in real-world activities and interactions, and I loved seeing both the positive and negative opinions of this technology.  I also liked Briggs’ optimistic outlook in his near future vision, with climate change reversed at the last moment, and the declining bee population revived through conservation efforts.  We’re not – quite – past the point of no return, and it’s sometimes good to be reminded of that.

CTRL S is a wonderful blend of science fiction and hi-tech crime thriller, with a frantic race against the clock to save Ella before the bad guys find her.  Those bad guys appear to be one step ahead at all times, and Theo and his friends quickly find themselves isolated, not knowing who to trust as it turns out that those working against them have friends in extremely high places.  I think that it’s inevitable that CTRL S will be compared to Ready Player One, and while there is a similarity in terms of the virtual reality element, CTRL S is darker in tone and themes.  It does get a little heavy on the technical details in places – it’s necessary to the story, but it does slow the pace down as the reader has to understand how some parts of the plot are feasible.  Aside from this, it’s a fast-paced novel as Theo and friends pursue with their quest to rescue Ella.

CTRL S is published by Orion.  The eBook is available now, and the paperback will be published on 28 November.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read and review this novel via Netgalley.


    1. Thank you, Nicki! 😊 I’d said it’s borderline. The age of the protagonists definitely puts this in the YA category, and there’s a bit of puppy love going on as well. But, some of the themes – while not gone into in depth – are darker than I’d usually associate with YA.

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