by Connie Willis
Cover Artist: Design: Faceout Studio, Jeff Miller; Photo: Brandon Hill.
Review by Judy Newton
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345540676
Date: 04 October 2016 List Price $28.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Crosstalk, Connie Willis has attempted two brave things at once: a cross-genre novel, and science fiction set in the recognizable present day. Has she succeeded? That depends, in large part, on your attitude toward romance.
The lesser risk is that it's relentlessly contemporary, with up-to-the-minute references, any of which could be dated by publication time. And one - Brangelina - is so no longer a thing! Wiser heads know that nothing ages faster than science fiction set in the now. (Admittedly, the tells usually involve technological forecasts that don't come true.)
But that's just a quibble. The greater chance she takes is to attempt to tell a story of the dangers of over-communication to society in general through the adventures of one protagonist and her relationships with her immediate friends, lovers, and relations, with the tropes of a romance novel.
If you hate romance, stop reading now. I can't say she transcends the genre of the beautiful heroine, romantically involved with a cad who doesn't deserve her, meeting the scruffy diamond-in-the-rough who proves to be honest, brave and true; overcoming real danger by cleverness and p(luck); realizing the true nature of both men; ditching the cad; and the happy ending. With telepathy.
Because yes, Willis is writing science fiction, as well. Briddey has been convinced to have a brain implant designed to allow her to communicate emotionally with the man she expects to marry. Still new and relatively untested, it can have unexpected results. And it does.
Unknown to her, her boyfriend (the cad), is scheming to use her to advance his smart phone technology idea and scoop Apple's new model. But Briddey develops the ability to read thoughts, not just emotions, and of many people, not just the cad. These threaten to overwhelm her with their sheer numbers unless she can learn to control them.
The scruffy one (who both loves her for herself and has the technical smarts and telepathic allies to outsmart the cad), must not only teach her how to do that, but thwart the plot to unleash this plague of over-communication on the whole of mankind. Does he? What do you think?
I have one word to describe the climax of the final, screen-filling, music-swelling, popcorn-selling, kiss: fireworks. Literally. If you like this sort of thing, you'll love it.