Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad book review

Britain is heading for a digital dystopia in Matthew Blakstad’s Sockpuppet

Sockpuppet Matthew Blakstad

The people of Britain are about to become Digital Citizens. The Minister of Information, Bethany Lehrer, is poised to launch a UK-wide online ID scheme that’ll put the data of millions in the hands of a tech giant called Mondan.

But the group’s data is hacked, and an account on Twitter-stand-in ‘Parley’ starts to post Lehrer and Mondan’s secrets and lies online. But ‘sic_girl’ is supposed to be just an algorithm – where is she getting her info?

Sockpuppet’s quite the genre-straddling piece of fiction: not quite futuristic or fantasy, and its themes about online harassment and shady corporate deals hit close to home, but it’s not a traditional thriller either. It thrives on the tension between private, public and corporate interests, but just like the aggregated personas that populate Parley, the characters feel a little thin.

The story flits mainly between the embattled Minister and sic_girl’s creator, coder Dani Farr. Blakstad drops social media blurbs into his prose, weaving his characters’ thoughts into this online world. It starts off gimmicky, but begins to feel authentic. Tonally, it’s hard not to be reminded of darkly on-point dramas like Black Mirror.

Some elements come off as a little on the nose, and yet the author touches a raw nerve when he confronts the anxiety around information used to harass. These don’t feel like such far removed fears anymore, so it’s interesting to see a writer tackle them.

One of the most relatable themes of Sockpuppet is the idea of freedom off the grid, or slipping into anonymity. Blakstad seems to understand the nature of online life and the virtue of getting out of there when you need to.