Every Version of You, by Grace Chan
Review by Aidan Wilson
Hello Melbourne! A city of culinary delights, fine art, and enough varieties of “footy” that even a lout such as myself is entertained. It is, indeed, an Australian gem, and deserves to flourish for a thousand years.
Unfortunately, in Grace Chan’s debut novel “Every Version of You”, things aren’t looking too great for Melbourne. It’s 2087 (which, let’s be honest, we are uncomfortably to close to – isn’t it still 1998?) and, in regards to climate change, the world has moved from the “fuck around” phase, and is now deep into “finding out”. The Yarra has largely run dry, and the air is so poor that breathing apparatus is a requirement to survive outside.
It is in this world that we are introduced to Tao-Yi, the protagonist of our story. Well, that is only a part truth, for we are actually introduced to Tao-Yi in Gaia, the incredible virtual reality world that people can escape to – in truth, live most of their lives in. Fully immersive, Gaia is everything that you would wish virtual reality to be (the senses? Be prepared to feel all of them). Right from the get-go, though, we can see that Tao-Yi is not completely sold on Gaia. It never quite feels right to her – the sky is oversaturated, the wind is non-existent.
However, for her partner Navin, Gaia is a god-send. Navin is struggling with debilitating medical conditions, that require regular major surgeries. In Gaia, Navin is free from chronic pain, able to live the life that had been denied from him.
Naturally, this brings conflict into the relationship between Tao-Yi and Navin, which is significantly exacerbated when the capability to completely upload a consciousness to Gaia becomes available.
For me, this is when the story really starts hitting its straps. The seedlings planted in the story, such as the two-tier class system (some members of society will never have the finances to enter Gaia), Tao-Yi’s sense of self – particularly with how it relates to her upbringing with her mother, truly start to bear fruit.
Chan adeptly creates a moral quandary for the times, and it was fascinating to see the repercussions through Tao-Yi’s eyes. Many things I would not have considered come to the fore. Do the children upload also? Who gives their consent? If the government, and all societal processes upload, what happens to the physical world? What happens when the vast majority of people vanish from the Earth?
Every Version of You is a fantastic, contemplative novel. Grace Chan has created a bleak future that is all too imaginable, and all the more terrifying for that fact. The story is full of heart, and Tao-Yi a relatable protagonist.
I am very comfortable in recommending this novel, and, in the immortal words of The Clash, “Should I stay, or should I go?”