Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers by John Marrs is set in the near future. There are five defined levels of driverless cars, from Level 0, in which the driver performs all tasks, to Level 5. Soon, all cars will be Level 5, totally autonomous with no manual override and no steering wheel. As the day begins, the author introduces readers to 8 characters who are boarding fully-autonomous cars. Some of the characters are uncomfortable with the lack of manual override; some are fine with it or even appreciate the freedom to read or do other tasks instead of paying attention to the road. The setting is England.

In Birmingham, there is a court in which the responsibility for autonomous automobile accidents is decided and Libby Dixon has jury duty. Libby was the witness to a horrific accident and knows how such cases can turn out. Now, Libby will have to share her opinion about similar cases between autonomous cars and pedestrians or other vehicles that are not autonomous. She has her suspicions that not everything is on the up-and-up in this court.

Back to the 8 passengers. After all the passengers have been on the road for a while, a hacker takes over their cars, one by one, and claims that he will crash them into each other in about 2 1/2 hours. Soon, the passengers will all be dead. But, he's taken over the airwaves. Now, the people in the autonomous accident court and viewers across England have no choice but to choose one person to live. The hacker provides proof that there is no way to rescue the occupants of the autonomous vehicles.

What's the hacker's objective? Will anyone survive?

Recommended - I had some minor issues with this book, the main one being that it was just a little too far-fetched for me. Some of the victims were chosen at random, according to the hacker. But, he knew intimate details about the lives of most of them and chose to only release partial information, just enough to make them all look guilty of something. In the end, I understood the point the hacker was trying to make. It's really a book about how a small percentage of people controls the vast majority of what happens to the population, how limiting information available can provide a skewed viewpoint, and how difficult it is to get all that across to the populace. I think that's the theme, anyway. I don't want to give away what's being manipulated and why he's trying to draw attention to it because that would ruin the story, but I will say that I found the book a little awkwardly written yet difficult to put down. And, the one thing I loved best about it was that the author managed to keep surprising me. I have a tendency to guess what's going to happen in a suspense, so I always appreciate an author who can surprise me.

I received a copy of The Passengers from Berkley Books in exchange for an unbiased review. My thanks to Berkley! I've already picked out the person I'm going to pass this book onto and I can't wait to hear his thoughts.

While I was in the midst of reading The Passengers, a friend wrote a comment to me on Goodreads to tell me John Marrs is one of her favorite authors. I love it when that happens!

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  1. I think this book would only make me more leery of self-driving cars. My husband is often telling me news about new developments; I have a friend whose new car has a self-correcting feature. I am uneasy about them!

    1. I'm totally disinterested in self-driving cars because I happen to enjoy driving, but this book will definitely put you off the concept. We have a 1-year-old car that has that feature to help keep you in the middle of your lane. It's not meant to be a self-driving feature, though (hands should always still be on the wheel); it's more a supplementary thing. I use it particularly in heavy traffic, when I'm so nervous about the cars right next to me that it's hard to focus on where I am in the lane. It helps. But, I don't use it all the time and it's useless in the rain or if the lines and dashes on the road are faded. There's also an automatic braking feature with this newer car and I don't use that at all. We tried it (it's part of the adaptive cruise control) and I found that it didn't always work. It's a feature that needs work, in my humble opinion. It doesn't always see a car pulling out in front of you, for example, so it often won't brake when you need it most. After using it a few times on the open road, I gave up on using that feature at all. It's just too unreliable.

  2. Husband showed me a video of a guy who could stand at the curb, and summon his car from the parking space. It would back out and drive itself to where he was. But it moved soooo slowly! A children's book I just read to my kid had robots working on a farm including a self-driving car that would come when called (verbally, by name). It seems inevitable, but I think still a long ways off before they are common on the road; seems like the functions need a lot of work still to be safe and reliable.

    1. Ugh, I can see summoning a car if you're disabled but who needs to do that when you can walk to the car? Seems like a bad idea, to me. Granted, I'm not a fan of change (sort of a stick-in-the-mud, really). I think the use of such features should be minimized. I agree with you that it's going to take time and lots of testing before those functions become anywhere near "safe and reliable". I found out today that the warning feature in my car to let you know another vehicle is passing behind you ceases to function when the car stops. So, you can have a car sitting directly behind you and the warning won't go off. Fortunately, I don't rely on those so-called safety features.


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