When I saw the author’s name was Project Itoh, it made me wonder if this was from a group of some sort. But when I read the author information in the back, it mentioned that Project was the nickname for Keikaku Itoh. Also, sadly, he died of cancer after revising his book Harmony. The book comes with a slogan on the title: In a perfect world, there is no escape. So, let’s go explore this dreadful utopia.
As a little girl, Tuan’s best friends were Cian and Miach. Miach was definitely the leader and had opinions on everything including the WatchMe (a health device that monitors and helps fix any medical problems people have) which will be implanted in the girls when they are older. Miach convinces her friends to stay children forever by attempting suicide. They will take pills that prevent nutrition from being absorbed by their bodies. Tuan wakes up in a hospital being told that Cian survived, but Miach died. Tuan then grows up to be a member of the WHO (World Health Organization) that works with countries that don’t implement WatchMe.
When Tuan gets kicked out for engaging in unhealthy practices (alcohol, drugs, a dummy WatchMe interface that hides those) she comes home and meets Cian for dinner. Cian seems normal, healthy and just a little off. During dinner, Cian whispers an apology to Miach and commits suicide with her dinner knife. At the same time six thousand other people have attempted suicide as well (about half were successful). Tuan finds herself investigating the situation and up against two factions in the WHO that have different views on how far the WatchMe should go. One group wants to increase the WatchMe to stop people from making bad decisions. The other group points out that if you can’t make bad decisions, then you aren’t truly conscious. Tuan has to deal with her missing father, the memory of Miach and a supervisor who’s against her as she tries to find out who made those people commit suicide.
The book is an interesting meditation on safety and how far you can go before you stop helping people and start hurting them. Tuan’s character is a fascinating ball of contradictions and confusion. She feels understand why people want WatchMe, but remains interested and drawn to societies without it. The main part of the book I didn’t like was the pseudo HTML emotional markup language that punctuates any emotional discussion. I found it pulling me out of the book, rather than helping me understand what was going on. The characters were interesting and the plot was decent. But this was a book of ideas and on that count, it was well done. Recommended.