Playback Effect is near future, thoughtful SF about how technology affects humans and whole societies.
The setting is the near future where people have invented the technology to record what other people experience and then play it back and experience it themselves. Feelings can be recorded and one of the main characters is a professional dreamer who records her dreams for others to buy and experience. However, specifics and details aren’t yet recorded.
One of the most interesting ways that this technology has impacted the society is in the criminal justice system. When a crime happens, technicians try their best to record the victim’s experiences and when the criminal has been sentenced, their victims’ recordings are played back to the criminal so that he or she can truly experience the hurt they’ve done.
Wynne Cantrell is a professional dreamer; she records the feelings she has during her dreams and can then sell the products to other people. She’s also married to Hal Wakeman but their marriage is has become more and more unhappy because of Hal’s self-centered interest in only himself and his work. The book starts when Wynne is sitting in the Cardinem Square waiting for Hal who is once again late, a bomb blows up near her. The EMTs and also a recording team arrive. Wynne survives but is terribly wounded and even loses a hand. The police have only one serious suspect: Hal.
Hal is tried and convicted and he has to experience the memories of the bombing victims. The first memory he experiences is Wynne’s… and then his sentence is stopped. Hal’s father used his influence to get Hal off the hook and the investigation is opened up again. However, the case’s lead investigator is convinced that Hal is the perpetrator and continues to hound him. Meanwhile, Hal realizes that he almost lost Wynne and how much he really loves her.
Also, on the crime scene, a young man dies while wearing a recording helmet. Just who, if anyone, should be able to experience that recording?
Wynne’s and Hal’s marriage has been falling apart for a while before the explosion. After that, it changes dramatically because Hal realizes that he has been taking Wynne for granted and stops doing that. The whole court case is also very humbling experience for him, during which he isn’t allowed to even see his wife. Hal’s career has been the most important thing in his life and that’s pretty much over. So, Hal changes quite a lot and then struggles to come to grips with the change.
The book has a lot of point-of-view characters. In addition to Hal and Wynne, there’s Arthur Kellic, the lead detective who has no other suspects than Hal, various other characters, such as a young hacker and the real bomber who considers himself a scientist.
I really liked most of the characters and the new technology is intriguing. As we’ve seen, new tech can bring about quite a lot of change. The possibility of recording people’s emotions can be a huge change and it’s explored through various characters.
The pace isn’t particularily fast at first but starts to build up.
I recieved a review copy in exchange for an honest review.