Welcome to Apex City, formerly Bangalore, where everything is decided by the mathematically perfect Bell Curve.
With the right image, values and opinions, you can ascent to the glittering heights of the Twenty Percent — the Virtual elite — and have the world at your feet. Without, you risk falling to the precious Ten Percent, and deportation to the ranks of the Analogs, with no access to electricity, running water — even your own humanity.
The system has no flaws. Until the elusive “Ten Percent Thief” steals a single jacaranda seed from the Virtual city and plants a revolution in the barren soil of the Analog world.
It’s appropriate that The Ten Percent Thief has the number ten in its title. Why? Because it’s definitely a 10/10. Lavanya Lakshminarayan has produced a flawless book that feels like an instant classic.
Where do I even start in trying to capture how much of a triumph this book is?
I mean, I could spend time talking about the poetic language, and the way sentences are both rich in depth and philosophically rooted, but also sharply incisive and needle-like in how they weave the story together.
Or I could talk about the structure, and the many different characters who share the stage to offer glimmers into this fantastically realistic world. Each is unique, and their constantly shifting perspectives make this feel at times like a short story collection. But to boil the book down into a series of short stories is unfair to it, because the little flashes that connect these characters are absolutely genius, and the whole narrative strikes home with more complexity than a typical anthology could muster.
I could waffle about the emotional richness, the highs and lows, and the expanse of reactions it prompted in me. But that might make it sound like a rollercoaster. And it’s not. It goes deeper than thrills. It stirred feelings of empathy in me, as though I were listening to a group of friends telling me about the most stunning and heartbreaking moments of their life.
Shall I talk about the world itself, and how it’s so dazzlingly realised? This is a future where productivity and conformity make up a person’s total worth. Consumerism at its most debauched level. There’s a culture of property and convenience in Apex City, where the most unproductive 10% of society are relegated to life without technology, whereas the most productive 20% seem to have every luxury there is. You’d better not think anything differently to what the company says you’re allowed to think, or that could deduct productivity points and you’ll find yourself having to exist without the contrivances of modern life. Allegories abound to highlight the contrasts of this class system — from differences in music to the simple act of planting a tree — and the implications of this cutthroat society are startlingly realised. Revolution against Bell Corp (the company that maintains this social order for the elite) is an itch that the narrative takes its sweet time to scratch, but when it does, it absolutely soars.
Comparison titles don’t really do it justice. It’s like if William Gibson met Becky Chambers, and they decided to reinvent the darkly acerbic wit of Philip K. Dick together. If this is cyberpunk, then cyberpunk doesn’t come more literary than this. A satirical flair makes this the kind of sci-fi that holds up a mirror to our place in the world, and the reflection is tragic and unsettling. But that’s the point. It’s not a vision of a future dystopia, it’s life right now repackaged into a technologically advanced Bangalore, and the scope of its reach is impressive and inescapable. Put simply — I haven’t read a more essential book when it comes to speculating on the modern world than this one.
Despite its seriousness and the depths of its themes, it’s fun. It’s charming. It’s beautiful. It’s poetic. And it‘s surprising. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, something new opens up. Reading this book is like walking through a garden at sunrise and watching flowers open up to the light, but each petal is a piece of you, and each new bulb is different from the last. By the time you get to the end, you’re completely satisfied by the variety of each individual flower, but stepping back to survey the whole scene is an absolute joy.
The Ten Percent Thief stole my heart. I fell in love with this book. If I had to rank it on the Bell Corp curve, it would definitely make the top 1%.
Seriously, I don’t even know where to start when it comes to summing up this book. You can forget about 10% — this is 100% awesome.
Release date: 28th March 2023
Published by: Rebellion Publishing