Neurology meets high-tech in this gripping science fiction novel

Neurology meets high-tech: Dead on Arrival by Matt RichtelDead on Arrival by Matt Richtel

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Just imagine. You’ve landed at a small regional airport somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The world has gone silent. There’s nothing but static on every channel on the radio. The body of a man in a jumpsuit lies sprawled on the tarmac, and human figures inside the terminal are motionless. Is this beginning of a dystopian tale? Will people everywhere be victims of a mysterious pandemic? Or is something else happening here?

In Matt Richtel’s debut novel, Dead on Arrival, something else is definitely going on. As will quickly become apparent, what appears to be a pandemic is somehow related to a top-secret project at Google. There, a small team of brilliant engineers is exploring the connection between information overload, memory, and attention. Has the experiment gone awry? We’ll find out.

Dead on Arrival is loosely based on contemporary neurological research that is turning up disturbing findings. The information overload to which so many of us are subject through our mobile devices and social media is a problem on many levels. First, the information glut that keeps us glued to our screens can impair working (short-term) memory. Second, information overload is causing many of us to suffer from decision fatigue. Third, as The Economist has noted, “information overload can make people feel anxious and powerless: scientists have discovered that multitaskers produce more stress hormones.” Lastly, our marriage with social media may be driving us apart, causing us to drift ever closer to political extremes (although some studies question this assertion). Matt Richtel has built his novel around these questions, speculating that the potential exists for electronic media to impact us in far worse ways.

Matt Richtel won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles at the New York Times about distracted driving. He later wrote a bestselling nonfiction book on the topic, A Deadly Wandering. Before writing Dead on Arrival, Richtel studied the impact on the human brain of living with “a deluge of data” from digital devices. He shared the thought that children’s brains are developing differently from those of their parents and others of older generations. Richtel, a graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia School of Journalism.

This book is one of 45 great sci-fi novels reviewed (plus a list of 41 all-time classics). You might also be interested in My 27 favorite science fiction novels. And if you fancy looking on the dark side, you might like to check out My 6 favorite dystopian novels and 24 compelling dystopian novels in series.


Mal Warwick