Uncommon Scents
by Bruce Berls & Jim Rowson
Arrgle Books

"A lot of people didn’t think anybody would dislodge Apple and Google. But Arrgle might have found a way to take over the world."

This satirical dystopian novel takes place In the year 2053 when most people have forgone smartphones and computers for nanobots that live in their bloodstreams. Users experience the world with augmented reality (AR) programs that allow them to change their appearance, sit in on conference calls half a world away, or brush away pop-up ads like flies. AR usually only affects one’s vision until mild-mannered programming genius Spiro finds a way to influence users’ sense of smell. Spiro presents his idea to his company, but soon, what seems like a silly suggestion spirals into chaos involving the military, the CDC, conspiracy theorists, and scheming whistle-blowers.

Though the plot is action-packed, it is also deeply humorous. Spiro’s obsession with vintage comic books drives a hilarious heist subplot, and his wife’s work involving marketing has her trying increasingly absurd lotion scents. The humor also comes through in subtler social satire, like when characters browse Seenit (an AR version of Reddit) and encounter conspiracy theories built on present-day issues.

While the tone of the novel is primarily comic, the authors hint at more serious sides to the sci-fi future they have created. For example, when people leave AR on at all times, they no longer see homeless people in their city. Children whose families cannot afford nanobots are at a disadvantage. Climate change runs unchecked, and new pandemics occur frequently. The main characters question these developments and start to plan solutions. The love between Spiro and his wife is a refreshing reminder that there is always good in their world. The story may be dystopian, but it still retains a sense of hope, as well as a sense of humor.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

A 2024 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List book

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