A novel written solely using e-mails, journal entries, IM and other computer-generated conversations, Joe is Online by Chris Wimpress is a scary bit of work dealing with the machinations and use of the internet. In this case, the internet is used to create both drama and hysteria using messages to targeted groups of people by working on their insecurities.
We follow the lives of Joe Brady and Penelope Hunt as they make their way through school and life. Living England and Scotland, both individuals’ live entirely different lives, with the everyday drama of existence sending them spiraling in two total separate directions. Unaware of each other, nevertheless they will play an important part in the final showdown of the terror perpetrated in the name of the Intercession.
Joe’s lot in life is formed by the interplay at his school as well as the abuse suffered at the hands of his stepfather. Always the odd one out, he is smarter than most of those around him and as such, is also a figure of ridicule by the bullies in the school system. Due to his penchant for trouble and the constant bullying, he is allowed to miss recess and use the library computer. This begins his lifelong love of the intranet and his deep distrust of the world around him. This becomes worse when his stepfather sexually abuses him.
With only one friend, he withdraws even further into himself, and manages to disappear from all existence at the age of 13 years. Using his skills with the internet, he sets himself up with a credit card to begin selling porn. He then uses those funds to pay off the card and after careful continuation is able to disappear and hide in London, living off the largesse that he has discovered.
Yet there is a darkness in Joe, a need to punish that will not go away. He uses the internet to build a terrorist organization, preying on those who have nothing to lose. Many have lost loved ones and their lives are shattered. He uses a con woman, a medium to both bilk them of money and to guide them to his organization, the Intercession.
The true work of the Intercession is unknown by its members, and Joe bides his time over the years, building a trust and deepening his terrorist activities, waiting to spring his trap and punish those he feels responsible of the evil of the world.
Penelope Hunt too is an extremely intelligent person and while she also has problems with her family, she finds herself also drawn to terrorism but as a foil, a counterpart to the evil it brings. She is on a path that will bring her into the shadow of Joe’s organization. As she realizes the stakes and her friends are methodically murdered, she only now realizes the power wielded by this one man. His footprint is so deep and planted for so long even the government finds it hard to believe he is real.
Can Penelope find the answers and stop the continued madness from spreading? There is only one other group in the know of what Joe is capable of. Can she find them in time? Is this new group what they seem or are they just another terrorist cell?
The use of the computer medium is well done and set in such a way that it appears almost in story form. It is set in a timeline of correspondence that takes you along the tortured path of Joe and his decline into the madness that begins to consume. You follow Penelope as she lives and learns to deal with life’s lessons and the direction she takes to become who she is. It is an intricate and uneasy story that begins to develop and it holds you enthralled.
Like watching drama unfold by peeking into the private lives of others, it creates a form of voyeurism, reading the secrets of the lives of the people involved. Uncomfortable and yet intriguing, the continuation of the work keeps you both interested and appalled. Reading the private correspondence seems almost sinful.
If you enjoy technology and suspense, this story will titillate. It is unique, but carries all of the drama of a thriller. Wimpress has written a fascinating story of the dark decline created by the unsavory nurture of a young student. It is a story of extremes and yet with realism that makes you wonder. This would be a great book for a reading group, creating a discussion on the merits of care and nurture.