ARC Review: The Hive by Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden
This book is what happens when you mix The Purge with cancel culture and let the government control it. Basically, a dystopian hellscape of weaponized anger.
About the Book
Publisher: Kids Can Press | Release Date: September 3, 2019 | Pages: 416
Genre: YA, Science Fiction | Format: eBook | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Social media used to be out of control, after all. People were torn apart by trolls and doxxers. Even hackers – like Cassie’s dad – were powerless against it.
But then the Hive came. A better way to sanction people for what they do online. Cause trouble, get too many “condemns,” and a crowd can come after you, teach you a lesson in real life. It’s safer, fairer and perfectly legal.
Entering her senior year of high school, filled with grief over an unexpected loss, Cassie is primed to lash out. Egged on by new friends, she makes an edgy joke online. Cassie doubts anyone will notice.
But the Hive notices everything. And as her viral comment whips an entire country into a frenzy, the Hive demands retribution.
One moment Cassie is anonymous; the next, she’s infamous. And running for her life.
With nowhere to turn, she must learn to rely on herself – and a group of Hive outcasts who may not be reliable – as she slowly uncovers the truth about the machine behind the Hive.
New York Times bestselling authors Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden have teamed up for the first time to create a novel that’s gripping, terrifying and more relevant every day, based on a story proposal by Jennifer Beals and Tom Jacobson.
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This book is essentially The Purge x Cancel Culture and it is terrifying in how plausible the plot is. It’s a smart speculative look at what could happen if the government created a system to rein in the worst parts of social media only to make things arguably worse.
“Now, people were fully accountable for their online behavior… and faced real-world consequences. […] Things were better now. People were more careful online, more responsible. How could that be wrong?”
Cassie McKinney is our sixteen-year-old main character, daughter of a famous hacker with her own coding skills up her sleeve. But since her father died six months earlier, she hasn’t really worked with code. She’s angry and she wants to participate in some Hive justice… until she is on the wrong end of the Hive herself and running for her life.
The government created a system – the Hive – which allows people to assign likes and dislikes based on the online activity of… everyone. You know that social networking score episode of Black Mirror? Kind of like that only on steroids. Basically, if enough people don’t like what you said or did and you get enough condemns, that means that you can be punished. Depending on the severity, the mob has a set amount of time to find and punish the target to exact justice.
I think my favorite parts were the presidential press conferences; it is no secret who the authors were emulating when coming up with President Dean Hythe.
“I ran for this office and won – twice – with some of the biggest margins in history. Some say the biggest margins. I don’t say that. I just say some of the biggest because maybe there are some bigger. I don’t know of any, but maybe there are.”
“It isn’t about me. Don’t write that in your papers and on your blogs or whatever. This is the will of the people. I ran and won twice to I’ve power back to the people, and now they have that power now. It’s up to them to use it.”
While hilarious, this also paints a strong message about how dangerous strongman politics are and how the current administration is weaponizing the anger and fear of the people to push an agenda and deflect. This is shown in the #trending Blinqs that appear throughout, and how there is always a small group talking about new bills signed into law that no one is talking about.
As the story progresses and the Hive Mob gets more rabid in their pursuit of justice, their Blinqs become increasingly hard to read. Which is the point: the anonymity of online leads people to say some truly horrific stuff when they have no consequences… suffice to say that it doesn’t get better when it’s condoned. I liked the mixed media component with press conferences and trending online messages to show how the world itself views our main character. All for a tasteless joke.
I’ll admit that I found the narrative a little heavy on technical and hacking jargon at times but for the most part, I just let my eyes glaze over and I didn’t seem to miss anything important. And I think the tech / hacking speak will be appreciated by readers versed in that. The pacing was a little rough with a lot of exposition a little over halfway, but otherwise, I was fully engaged (and horrified) by this speculative future. The ending is a little more open-ended than I would like because I like finite endings, but it made sense and didn’t feel rushed.
“Her dad used to tell her about the days when someone’s name trending on Twitter meant they had died, or, best case, had dropped an unannounced album. But slowly, the online behaviors that were and were not acceptable began to change.”
I do want to say the narrative felt a little heavy-handed in its message on social media usage and I wish some nuance had been introduced to not paint this as “internet bad, cancel culture bad.” Because there is some value to calling out toxic and problematic behavior, but doxxing and bullying is never okay. Reductio ad absurdum arguments like this can be dangerous and send the wrong message.
Overall, I enjoyed The Hive! I was sucked into the story and read it in two sittings because I was so invested in Cassie and her plight. This is a great piece of speculative fiction that’s important for our times today. I wish the exposition were spread a bit more so it didn’t affect the pacing in the middle part of the book, but this would make a terrific movie or episode of Black Mirror.
Representation: biracial rep, women in STEM
Content warnings: bullying, death, doxxing, grief, loss of a loved one, online threats (rape, violence, murder), violence
eARC provided by the publisher, Kids Can Press, in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect the content of my review. Quotations are from an uncorrected proof and subject to change upon final publication.