Review: Poster Boy

Poster Boy by N.J. Crosskey


As many know, I like good dystopian fiction. Inevitably, it has a science fiction element so one of the problems is establishing the reality and, in places, a viewpoint. Poster Boy starts off with a suspense-filled scene that we know is an ending: we just don’t know when. But it has to establish a baseline in the past and has to do so from the perspective of a privileged, spoilt teenager with all the proverbial angst and self-focus.

It’s a difficult task. Very difficult. But NJ Crosskey manages it, and establishes a viewpoint and voice(s) that you cannot help but grate against: I loathed the main protagonists… but had to keep to reading.

Social media is taking a hit. Cambridge Analytica, Russia, secretive businessmen, Brexit, elections – all have been involved in social media scandals and have denied being involved in manipulation of or creation of ‘fake’ news. The thing is, fake news isn’t new. It’s been around for years, centuries, and there was a tacit acceptance that governments were – perhaps still are – doing it for the good of the country, even the UK in WWII and in the Cold War. In times of crisis, departments were set up to manage, create, debunk or generally shape information.

Manipulation of ‘truth’ is a strong theme in 1984 and is the central theme (could I say novum?) in Poster Boy. And like all good dystopian fiction it’s based in real problems that are occurring now: the horrifically slanted view of immigrants and Muslim extremism that takes no account of — well, almost anything else. And the central tool for that in this instance is the institutionalised assault against a set of revolutionaries/free-speakers using a poster boy, an otherwise unremarkable yob.

We see the power-plays unfold from two major viewpoints: the poster boy’s twin sister and an undercover terrorist/revolutionary. The manipulation is explored in horrifyingly real detail; the horrors and crimes committed on both sides ring as horribly true; and the personal justifications creep up on us constantly.  The increased surveillance, the refabrication of news, the opposition to misuse of power, the expulsion of illegal immigrants, kidnapping, the use of violence – every step is just so reasonable.

But the institution is apparently morally bankrupt. But there’s manipulation in there, too. And it is so powerful, you’re left with wondering whether or not the revolutionaries (or terrorists: your choice) will actually succeed at all. Sure, they may have got rid of an immediate threat, may have exposed a whole series of lies, but have they really made an impact? And are their methods as bad as those of the institutions they try to expose? How far can the end justify the means – on either side of the argument?

The answer is left for us to decide. But it’s a future we see coming closer and closer every day and it’s a question we will have to face in our real life — and soon.

Poster Boy, like all decent dystopian fiction, is a sobering reflection on the now. And an uncomfortable reflection, at that.

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