Inkers imagines a world in which nanotechnology has become sentient, and is turning against its makers.
In his debut novel Inkers, Alex Rudall tries to imagine a future society in which the human race is consumed with the desire for “ink”: a mysterious nanotech drug which, when not lethal, can imbue the user with unpredictable powers.
Ink addiction is the least of humanity’s problems, however, as it just so happens that the world is ending — a regrettable eventuality of our technological experiments.
But the impending apocalypse doesn’t produce the story beats you’d usually expect from this type of novel. There are no last-minute alliances, no game-changing revelations, and no quick fixes. Just a ticking clock, and various desperate scrambles for an impossible solution.
Several seemingly unconnected storylines weave together to bring the futuristic world of Inkers to life.
At the center of the tension is Lily, a young ink addict who is forcibly injected with a mysterious ink-like substance, in a madman’s desperate attempt to save the world from itself. An ageing entrepreneur named Hardwick journeys to South Africa in an effort to profit off of ink technology, while an immune ink hunter named Amber finds herself in a spot of trouble in Kathmandu.
The three seemingly unconnected characters only have one thing in common: the ink that has wrecked havoc on society.
The now-sentient nanotechnology has bigger ambitions than becoming humanity’s go-to recreational drug, however. As the humans scramble to fix their own problems, the techno-celestial GSE oversees the fate of the world from its outer space vessel.
Working towards what it deems “the protection of rabbitkind” — in true robot conspiracy theory fashion — the GSE ends up doing humanity more harm than good.
It all converges on the small farm on which Lily is trapped. The “singularity” growing inside of her is calling the GSE back to Earth, and they’re bringing the apocalypse with it.
‘Inkers’ book review
Too often in dystopian novels, everything somehow feels too neatly connected, too convenient to be believable. Not so of Inkers, which is truly an unpredictable read.
At times, it seems Rudall is more preoccupied with world-building than driving the plot forward. This is not a detractor from the novel’s appeal, because his imagined future is both original and rich with real-world relevance. In fact, one almost wishes the book took more time to set up this world before collapsing it into chaos.
Keeping the reader in the dark is part of the book’s appeal, however: the experience of being dropped down into a world you don’t really understand, lurched around from location to location until you feel as out of your depth as the characters in the story, is pretty exhilarating.
Rudall’s talent for distorting expectations is made evident from the very first sentence: “The ship was huge, half a millimetre from bow to stern.”
A study in contradictions, Inkers goes to great lengths to set up expectations, only to throw them on their heads, plunging the narrative back into uncertainty. As a reader, you feel as lost as the characters, as aimless as any of the humans trudging along on earth and trying to go about their business, while looking up at the sky and seeing the end of days slowly drawing closer.
The stark realism, partnered with the elusive, supernatural-adjacent powers of the titular inkers, makes for an evocative reading experience.