A. J. Kirby’s novel Perfect World envisages what such a world might consist of – and examines the reasons it always falls short of perfection. Through the eyes of journalist Toby Howitt, at once world-weary and out of his depth, the plot develops via meetings with God, the disillusioned creator of Perfect World, and excursions into His artificial version of reality. Set in the Cornish gardens of Eden and Elegant, the Biblical allusions extend to characters named Addam and Eva and touches on the Fall of Man, with a modern twist. Kirby tackles themes of lost world(s), and alternate realities through a series of fast-paced adventures. The book’s central premise is the merging of Real and Virtual worlds, seen through the prism of a ‘second life’ lived through an avatar – the Perfect World of the title – and how that impacts on human relationships.
Using the near-future setting, Kirby hints at the inevitability of
ecological disaster and critiques social inequality (in both worlds) –
“capitalism’s last stand” – in the rich tradition of ‘dystopian’ science
fiction. The action is continuous, the narrative entertaining, and the tone
urgent throughout, and whenever the atmosphere threatens to become too
oppressive, serious matters are often treated with humour. As a naive narrator,
Howitt is both a strength, allowing the reader to see events as they unfold
through his eyes, and at times a weakness, preventing a fuller exploration of
the philosophical implications of the perfect world. The ignorance of the
narrator drives the plot forward, but in this respect is also its limitation;
it arguably restricts Kirby in actively pursuing the many ideas and issues
The fundamental issue of communication – how people relate to one another
when every laptop, mobile phone or tablet offers instant access to a safe,
self-enclosed world (such as Second Life or virtual reality games) – is at the
heart of this story. As Howitt initially explains, the primary advantage of
this artificial environment is that it “... enabled me to live in a world in
which I do not have to be myself”, with a wife he has never ‘met’, but he comes
to realise that this apparent freedom brings its own restrictions. What seems
the ultimate form of escape gradually unravels, and he eventually finds
sanctuary in the ‘real’, the tranquil gardens and quiet countryside.
Recommended for fans of adventurous science fiction and anyone interested in
new novels with contemporary themes.
This review originally appeared on the Leeds Big Bookend site.