The Passengers by John Marrs

Ebury/Del Ray | 2019 (ebook: 1 April; Pb: 30 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book: Kindle; Pb

The Passengers by John MarrsOne morning a number of individuals think nothing of the journeys they’re about to undertake. They each get into their cars and set off. None of them will get to their destination. Each of the cars is fully automated, without steering wheels or controls, the driver is no longer a driver. He or she is just a passenger driven by an AI. Having control of the radio or tv screen is about the only power that the passengers have, but these people are about to lose even that. A few minutes into the journey they hear a voice and it tells them something that some of them believe must be a hoax – or even a reality TV show game. Their journey will take two and a half hours and at the end of that time, they will probably be dead. And it will all be filmed and projected into TVs and social media streams across the land. Viewers will be asked to make a choice.

Meanwhile, watching on is Libby. Libby is the civilian member of a curious jury that meets to decide who is liable in the event of an accident involving driverless cars. Is it the fault of the victim or the car? But their heated discussions are interrupted by the display of the drama playing out in front of an increasingly large and opinionated audience. As Libby and everyone else meets the helpless, panicked passenger, Libby realises with a shock that one of them looks very familiar to her indeed.

The Passengers is a book that I had to read the moment I was fortunate enough to obtain an advance copy. The premise is, undeniably, a little ridiculous but it is absolutely riveting! Set in the near future, this is a world in which social media is king and when people have got more time to spend on it due to the luxury of being driven around in cars by AI systems. There are sinister connotations to both of these concepts and John Marrs explores them to the full and I was hanging onto every single word.

The passengers are a fascinating and varied bunch, including a young pregnant woman, a suicidal man, an ageing movie and TV star, an unhappily married couple (each in their separate cars), a refugee, a woman escaping an abusive husband, an old soldier, and so on. It’s up to the public, and Libby’s jury, to save them, and social media will be shown at its very worst as it uses preconceptions about colour, gender, morality, religion, age to condemn the innocent – or the guilty. It is so gripping! We see the world at its worst.

One of the (many) things that kept me so hooked on the book is the author’s incredible talent for ending many of the chapters with such a shocking revelation or cliff hanger that at times I was utterly gobsmacked! I even had to mute a squeal when I was reading an especially jawdropping moment on the bus. But these moments aren’t rare. They happen time after time and I was left in utter awe of their creator’s skill.

I’m quite good at identifying the villain in thrillers and crime novels but The Passengers kept me in complete and happy ignorance until the very end. That is such a treat in itself. But this was more than equalled by the brilliant storytelling, the tension that is maintained from the very first page, the shocks that jolted me upright at regular and yet unexpected intervals, and the sheer entertainment of enjoying a sensational, slightly preposterous, story, made so real and thrilling. If you want a fun read, look no further!

2 thoughts on “The Passengers by John Marrs

  1. BookerTalk

    This is a frightening prospect but one that isn’t all that far fetched. I dread the day when someone decides it is a good idea to use AI to fly planes instead of real life pilots……


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