by Connie Willis
Cover Artist: Design: Faceout Studio, Jeff Miller; Photo: Brandon Hill.
Review by Sam Lubell
Del Rey Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345540676
Date: 04 October 2016
Fans of Connie Willis know of her fondness for Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s. And that's what Crosstalk is--a romantic comedy about telepaths that has some serious commentary on communications issues. This is a book that will make you cringe, laugh, and think, sometimes all at once.
Briddey Flannigan works at Commspan, which is developing a new phone to compete with Apple. When the book opens, the company’s gossip network has discovered that rising executive Trent Worth took her to a fancy restaurant, where he popped the question. Not the "Will you marry me?" question, but the question of getting an EED--a recently invented medical procedure that allows two connected people to feel each other's emotions. Everyone at the company is thrilled except for C.B. Schwartz, the company's semi-reclusive genius (Briddey compares him to the Phantom of the Opera) who points out the dangers of a brain operation and of being too connected.
Briddey's family is also opposed to the EED. They normally call or text message her dozens of times each day. Her sister Kathleen is always making bad romantic choices. Her other sister Mary Clare is obsessed with the idea that something is wrong with her daughter, Maeve, so is always spying on her or trying to get Briddey to do it for her. And Aunt Oona wants Briddey to attend activities of the Daughters of Ireland group (despite never visiting Ireland herself) to catch a nice Irish lad.
But after many complications in the best romantic comedy tradition, largely to avoid letting anyone at Commspan know when they are having the operation, Briddey and Trent do have the EED. Briddey finds herself connected, but to C.B., not Trent. This is not just emotional feelings but full two-way telepathy, which is not supposed to happen. Briddey needs to hide this from everyone, especially Trent, while getting training from C.B. in how to control her telepathy. After a while, she begins to hear everyone, not just C.B., and the voices become overwhelming.
Then, just when the book seems to be growing predictable, as Briddey finds herself falling for the reclusive C.B., she suddenly hears Trent and Trent can hear her back. He's become a telepath too. And he's not the only one. Gradually Briddey learns that nearly everyone in her life has been keeping secrets and nothing is as it seems, no, not even the Daughters of Ireland.
This is a fun and funny book. But it also has a serious message about the dangers of constantly being in contact with others and the need for a refuge from communications overload.
This is not a book for people looking for action and adventure. This is a romantic comedy and relationship drama. It would be a good book for people who claim that science fiction books have lousy characterization or for readers of mainstream literature who want to try science fiction.
Highly recommended. I suspect it will be on the Hugo ballot (and if not, it should be.)