Book Review: Green Valley (Louis Greenberg)

From time to time, Titan Books are kind enough to send me advance copies of upcoming novels I express an interest in. When they do, I’ll be reviewing them here on Cultural Conversation.

Dystopian fiction has long been the province of novelists projecting into the future but Louis Greenberg presents a fascinating, contained version in Green Valley of how technology may consume us.

His first solo novel, after having written as part of a team with fellow novelist Sarah Lotz under the name S. L. Grey, Green Valley hinges on a key choice made by society in the not too distant future about how we interface with technology in our lives. The so-called ‘Turn’ saw humanity reject the penetration of advanced virtual reality projecting an existence before our eyes which played out on a technological playing field in exchange for an older, slightly rougher and defiantly more *real* world… except the community of ‘Green Valley’; protected behind a huge wall, flanked by largely abandoned real world communities, and driven by their own laws and systems – an entirely autonomous community significantly more advanced than the rest of the world. Greenberg’s novel is all about the intersection between these two intentionally different worlds.

Green Valley could easily have ended up as an episode of the Netflix TV series Black Mirror, holding up as it does a mirror to our relationship with technology and finding darkness, confusion and terror in the reflection.

Though grounded in the exploration of virtual reality and how we might end up engaging with it, Green Valley presents as a combination of thriller and detective story in how Greenberg constructs his tale.

The central concept is inherently dark as Lucie Sterling, a woman who sundered the chance to live within Green Valley, comes to believe that the niece of her deceased sister—who lives inside the digital metropolis that is Green Valley—has disappeared and upon hearing unconvincing platitudes from her father David resolves, against potentially the wishes of the department she works for—a department who are covertly studying the scope of technology inside Green Valley—to find out what happened to her. Greenberg tells his tale from the first person POV of Lucie and another key character later in the book it is worth waiting to see revealed, but each of these approaches draw you into the psychological underpinning behind two characters looking to protect children from extremely different and morally grey vantage points.

Green Valley does take some bedding in as a reading experience. Greenberg does a lot of world-building through Lucie’s investigative prism early on which very much establishes a world which teeters on the edge of dystopia while clinging on to hope – a world in which there is a clear divide between those who have been arrested by the forward march of technology’s interface with the human experience and those who abjectly reject what it stands for, and you sense Greenberg sits alongside the latter. Green Valley feels like a cautionary exploration of precisely what unlimited exposure to the possibilities of the online, anything is possible world can do to the human psyche – in short, nothing good.

Greenberg doesn’t pull his punches often with some frightening and bizarre digital imagery, presenting Green Valley on the surface as a picture perfect representation of the American picket fence ideal at the digital frontier under which lurks a nightmarish, painful truth in which children are left for dead. He is unafraid to pitch Lucie forward into a haunting and disturbing tale as the search for her niece leads her down a twisted, even conspiratorial rabbit hole. To say too much would be to ruin the experience but once the wheels of plot begin to turn, Green Valley becomes an arresting tale of complicated moral compromises at the end of the digital rainbow. It is a novel firmly suggesting salvation does not exist at the end of a VR lens.

For anyone interested in near future digital innovation mixed with neo-noir, Green Valley is going to be a chilling and thought provoking read.

Green Valley is available Tuesday June 11th from Titan Books.

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