Book Review: Unanimity by Alexandra Almeida
Title: Unanimity (Spiral Worlds, #1)
Author: Alexandra Almeida
Publisher: Self published
Page count: 570
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Shadow is a reluctant god with a broken mind and a death wish. He used to be Thomas Astley-Byron, an affluent young screenwriter whose creativity and ideali sm saved a world from the brink of collapse. Together with Henry Nowak, an AI expert, Tom created heaven on earth by inventing a Jungian simulated reality that helps humans confront their dark sides. The benevolent manipulation platform turned the two unelected leaders into beloved gods, but now everything is failing. The worlds suffer as a sentimental Tom descends into his own personal hell, becoming the embodiment of everything he despises and a shadow of his former self.
His journey from an optimistic, joyful Tom to a gloomy Shadow is paved with heartache and sinister interference from emerging technology. Humans and bots fight for his heart, but their aims differ: some want to own it, some to dissect it, and others to end its foolish beat. Still, the biggest threat comes from within—none of the sticky stories that steer Tom’s life end well.
Who’s pulling on Shadow’s heartstrings? Are their intentions malign or benign? It’s all a matter of perspective, and Shadow has none left.
Now, a young goddess—Estelle Ngoie—has been appointed to replace him, and unlike Shadow, Stella takes no prisoners, and her heart bleeds for no one.
Imagine William Gibson’s meets Black Mirror with a strong serving of Jungian philosophy mixed in and you’ll get Unanimity by Alexandra Almeida. Set in a near future where a series of progressive virtual worlds—the Spiral Worlds—have helped humanity overcome the worst aspects of itself, we are introduced Shadow/Tom, one of the key creators of this virtual reality and the AI that runs it. The sticking point: Shadow/Tom has been resurrected in the virtual world (for the second time and against his wishes) after the death of his physical body in the real world. His resurrector, Stella, the latest human god/overseer of the Spiral Worlds has a task for him that only he can complete: save the Spiral Worlds.
While that is the initial premise there is A LOT of other stuff going on simultaneously, from several resurrected friends/gods of Shadow/Tom (who murdered each other), poetry that is breaking the levels of the virtual reality, humanity’s inaction in the world above, sentient AI and non-player characters, and a whole host of things I cannot possibly cover in a review with any adequacy (or sense).
Unanimity is a multi POV story told across two time periods: the “present” time period in which the newly/resurrected Shadow/Tom has six days to save the Spiral Worlds, and the past, where the events that led to creation of the virtual reality and history between Shadow and his friends are explained. Despite the sci-fi cyberpunk-esq themes of Unanimity, the story places most of its focus on the characters, their relationships and their mistakes. Character flaws drive the story here. There is some fantastic LGBTQ+ rep and exploration of unhealthy relationships. I particularly liked seeing characters recognise their unhealthy relationship for what it was and removing themselves from the situation.
I should also commend the author’s poetry, not only do we get some great slam poetry woven into the story, but also some fantastically clever ideas explored around its impact on humanity and the Spiral Worlds.
Make no mistake, Unanimity is a book of big ideas—it tackles the question of what it might take to drive meaningful change in the world in numerous and refreshing ways. And while I enjoyed the intellectual exploration, Unanimity was a dense read which needed careful attention, particularly when information was hinted at or implied. Meanwhile, each chapter tended to begin with page or two of exposition before diving into a scene. While this was effective to quickly show the passing of time and convey important information, it made these sections difficult to engage with.
In all, Unanimity is a solid start to a series. While dense and a little choppy, it’s ideas more than make up for it. Full of big and wonderfully intellectual concepts, it will make you pause and ponder about the future humanity is heading towards.