Review: Terms of Service by Craig Stanfill

Terms of Service: Subject to change without notice by Craig Stanfill

4.5 of 5 stars

Book Blurb:
1984 meets The Matrix in this riveting science fiction novel about corporate totalitarianism, personal freedom, and one brave character’s journey to reclaim her humanity from an oppressive regime.

250 years in the future, artificial intelligences control every aspect of Kim’s life - from what she has for breakfast to who she is allowed to have sex with. Living in the northeast province of what used to be the United States, she is a rising star at The Artificial Intelligence Company, training and managing sentient beings called “AIs” in the enigmatic parallel universe of Virtual Reality.

When a seemingly harmless lark sends Kim’s life spinning out of control and the AIs begin to go mad, Kim launches into a journey of self-discovery and chaos that threatens to tear down society’s corrupt powers, and possibly civilization itself.

For fans of classic dystopian literature like Brave New World and ground-breaking TV shows like Black Mirror, Stanfill explores the lurking dangers of a surveillance state where privacy is dead, corporations have unlimited power, and even using the word “I” is forbidden.

Book Review:
What intense world building! Wonderful character growth! Crisp storyline! Thoughtful science fiction! Imaginative descriptions! I can keep talking in exclamatory phrases but you get my point by now - this is a fantastic book.

Kim lives in a world of carefully controlled order and structure, with all knowing AIs helping the city run smoothly. It's a dystopian future with an emphasis on unity, and any notions of individuality are seen as unfortunate 'selfist' traits. Kim is an obedient, keep your head down and do your work, sort of person. When we meet her, she's just trying to do the best she can and that's that.

Kim's world is so well thought out and has many of the descriptions and perspectives that I just love about dystopian novels. This book hit all the right spots for me - I'd been craving a good dystopian story for so long, but didn't realise it till I got the opportunity to read this book. I understand I'm being really complimentary, but it was just a really good book! It was a warm bowl of soup for my dystopian loving soul.

In all fairness, I must say the first 40ish% of the book is fairly slow in terms of story progression. Things move, but slowly. The emphasis is more on setup and world-building. While obviously not a bad thing - especially for those of you who love a good setup and descriptions - this does make the story slower paced at the outset. Do not stop reading! It picks up pace later. Trust me. The story soon turns much faster paced as we, along with Kim, learn more about this world, it's machinery, it's driving force, and AI.

Kim and other secondary characters are really well fleshed out, and I just keep coming back to how fantastic the world building and the plot is. At risk of repeating my effusive praise, I will stop here.

To that end, I would have expected some sort of greater resolution, but the fact is the story did progress in terms of an internal shift in the protagonist - both mentally and emotionally, and an external situational shift as well. This provides some small comfort to a reader looking for an ending of sorts, but it is clear that there is a lot that is meant to be wrapped up in the following sequels. It does leave threads untied and questions unanswered, which is equally exciting and anticipatory. After all,the hints are super juicy and tempting.

If you're looking for a fantastic new series to sink your teeth into, with dystopian vibes that combine sci-fi + Brave New World + 1984, I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

🚨 Mild spoilers ahead! 🚨

In a Q&A on Goodreads, the author says, "I wanted to create a world where freedom and choice were essentially dead, but where life was tolerably comfortable for most people, in order to create a tension between the desire for freedom and the desire for order and comfort. Kim made her own decision in this regard, but in the context of the world it is not entirely clear that she has made a wise choice." This is straight from the author, and of course he explains it better than any reviewer could. This is part of why this story is so exciting to me - seeing what led to this decision, and how Kim changed and grew is just so fantastic. Shan is also so intriguing and I'd love to see her story line progress. 

*A review copy was provided to Oh Just Books by the author via Reedsy Discovery in exchange for an honest review*