4 stars,  science fiction,  YA

YA Science Fiction Review: ‘0.4’ by Mike Lancaster

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

It’s a brave new world. 

‘My name is Kyle Straker. And I don’t exist anymore.’ 

So begins the story of Kyle Straker, recorded on to old audio tapes. You might think these tapes are a hoax. But perhaps they contain the history of a past world…If what the tapes say are true, it means that everything we think we know is a lie. And if everything we know is a lie does that mean that we are, too?

After reading Ellie at Musing of a Bookshop Girl‘s review, this book went straight onto my wishlist.  And stayed there.  I kind of forgot about it, to be honest, until I was clearing out my wishlist one day and spotted it loitering towards the end.  A few clickety-clicks on my Waterstones app later (that is one dangerous app, readers!) and it was on its way.

I had just finished a detailed historical fiction novel and was feeling in the mood for a quicker fix.  I could not have chosen better!  Despite starting it in the middle of my working week, I read it in less than 24 hours.  When I wasn’t working/performing necessary human functions, I was reading 0.4.  Trying to just read one chapter of this book is like trying to eat one Pringle.  It can not be done!  Every time I picked it up, I was completely stuck to it until I was forced to do something else and poor Boyfriend got more than one stern look for interrupting me while I was reading it.

The story starts with a suitably cryptic introduction but really gets going when Kyle and three other residents of a small village in Cambridgeshire volunteer to take part in a display of hypnotism during a village talent contest and wake up to find all of their fellow residents frozen in place.  Left with nobody to turn to, the four “lucky” ones clamber to work out what has happened to their friends and families and where their future lies…

Although on the face of it, this is very much a YA novel, there are some sneaky little twists in there to keep the older ones among us interested too.  A little bit like some of the modern animated films that include plenty of jokes for the adult audience in amongst the colourful frippery.  Events are recounted by Kyle using a discarded cassette tape recorder.  It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into setting up this story, right down to there being some gaps in Kyle’s story where he fails to allow for the few seconds at the beginning and end of a cassette tape where no sound is recorded, a quirk that will probably only be familiar to those of us who are better acquainted with the peculiar charms of cassettes.

What made this novel stand out for me were the comments of those listening to Kyle’s story in the future.  The prologue, the editor’s notes and the afterword all transformed an exciting YA story into something really…unsettling.  The speculations over idioms that have become defunct were my particular favourites:

“NOTE – ‘eel of jealousy’
This is quite a bizarre phrase, because an eel was a snakelike fish of the type we now refer to as an Anguilleform. How this related to jealousy is unknown, although Kenton argues for being a kind of metaphor for the feeling the primitive emotion caused within the individual.  LeGar, however, points to a fragment of text called Stargate SG-1 which suggests that a parisitic creature of this type may have been present within certain individuals”
[Page 90]

The only real casualty of the break-neck pace is characterisation.  With the exception of Kyle, the characters aren’t particularly well developed and their relationships are fairly superficial.  This is one of those retrospective criticisms, though, since the plot and pacing were so strong that I didn’t even really have time to notice that the characters were a bit one-dimensional.  

Overall:  Don’t be deceived by the YA tone – 0.4 has plenty for everyone to enjoy and will leave you just a little bit less secure in your surroundings than you were before you read it.  If you haven’t read any science fiction before, this is a great place to start – it has plenty of the mind-bending that you would expect from the genre without being completely technologically baffling.