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Mr Jeremy Tay recommends Sofia and the Utopia Machine (2017)

Set in a futuristic Singapore, Sofia is an angsty teenage girl who both loves and resents her mother for the disappearance (abandonment?) of her father when she was 8. Their family lives in the Midlevels – where the middle-class knowledge workers (her mother is a scientist at Biopolis) are housed, in between the glasshouse Canopies of the political elite and the Void where the underclass factory workers live. Sofia is initially preoccupied with the politics of being in a girls’ school (RGS), but she finds herself enmeshed in a secret government programme developing a Utopia Machine – a device that gives users access to a multiverse, where they (the presumptive political elite) can create perfect worlds to escape both the dearth of material resources in the real world (because this is Singapore after all, where we have “no natural resources except our people”) and also the ravages of climate change. The Void is slowly becoming overcome by rising sea levels, and there is only so much the elites can do to avoid the realities of this world.

Sofia becomes the unwilling heroine of the story, as she is the only one able to activate the Utopia Machine and she becomes responsible for both the inhabitants of this universe as well as the fate of her family in her own. Hunted by the tyrannical Singapore government and on the run, she must rescue her imprisoned family, talk to her online boyfriend from RI, as well as curb her internet addiction.

This book started out as a high school romance in the metaverse, but quickly became a bonkers mix of genres – there were political essays, a metaverse and multiverse, as well as allusions to stories from ‘Narnia’ to ‘The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas’ and the ‘Lucifer’ graphic novel series. I particularly enjoyed the creation myths in the novel, which were reminiscent of ‘1001 Arabian Nights’.

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