Zed book review


Zed by Joanna Kavenna s not a happy tale in the same way that 1984 is not a happy tale. However, it is a very relevant one in the same way that 1984 is very relevant.

Zed is set in the near enough to be scary future and tells of the travails of Beetle, an all encompassing tech company that is in no way similar in reach and vision to companies like Facebook and Google. Not at all.

Beetle is everywhere, and is using its everywhereness to provide everyone with a handy “lifechain” which is able to predict what you might do before you do it. The story explores what happens when pesky humans start behaving in ways which the lifechain doesn’t predict and how Beetle is forced to come up with the idea of “Zed”, an imaginary quantity that defines this unfortunate characteristic. Mitigating Zed becomes a company priority with bad results for just about everyone.

It’s a lovely description of how people, companies and governments can justify, rationalise and institutionalise evil without anyone being consciously malicious. You’re never quite sure where the evil is coming from. Bad things seem to happen to good people as an emergent behaviour of the system, rather than having been mandated by any particular person.

If you have any interest in the future you should read this book. It won’t leave you with a warm feeling that things are all going to be OK with our benevolent corporate overlords, but it will give you a lot to think about.