Nothing to Hide by Nick Simon

 Nothing to Hide
  by Nick Simon

  Deux Voiliers Publishing
  Ottawa 2015
  ISBN 978-1928049258

Reviewed by John F. Thorne

Nick Simon’s novel, set in the Vancouver of a slightly shifted present or very near future, presents an Orwellian picture of Internet development in a frighteningly familiar budding-monopoly, corporate-capitalist, surveillance-society context, all revealed through the internal and external experiences of his sad-geek protagonist, William. As the novel opens, timid William, who is doing fairly well as a data management peon thanks to the one-dimensional focus that he enthusiastically and effectively applies to the boring categorization of individuals and institutions for a social network website for academics entitled Eureka!, is under the secret surveillance of crackbrained “Doctor Officer Elias Degair”, a Public Health officer in a Vancouver where illness, including psychological illness, is a crime. 

Like an enormous and increasing number of other netizens, William also has another ‘job’ as partner and co-founder, with friends, in a small media-run business. His simple goal is to gain direct employment and ‘success’ within the mushrooming near-monopoly of the media entity that dominates and is rapidly replacing the global economy as we used to know it – a corporation ominously name Real, owned by Sydney Rothsteen, a capitalist blend of Big Brother and the Wizard of Oz. It is all too familiarly typical that William has no social skills, avoids contact with the remains of the physical world outside the Internet, and has no ‘friends’ other than his Internet business partners and an Internet camgirl who works for a live porn site. 

As we now know, the promised ‘freedom of the Internet’ is also the reality of surveillance, and in William’s personal computer diary and Internet communications Degair finds that, beneath William’s conformist dedication to his mindless job, there lies evidence of a confused dissatisfaction, to which Degair applies the name William’s Disease. When the rootless, politically-conscious dropout and healthy rebel Thomas Vickers takes up a part-time job with Eureka! and befriends William, showing him possibilities for thought, independence, spirited unhealthy illegal activity and at least a desperate possibility of resistance to the near-universal box of Internet-dominated society, Degair decides it’s time to act to prevent William’s Disease from spreading throughout the utopian sheepfold under construction. Degair, Eureka!, Rothsteen, Real and the corporate media world have all the advantages in this unequal struggle, which takes place within and without the two-dimensional cyberworld they have created, one that is not so much a competitor with physical existence as it is a replacement for it – a world whose agents in material reality are hybrid health officer/cops. The object of the struggle is the possession of William’s soul – or its replacement. 

Simon’s characters are not only believable but are also ominously familiar. The action and development of William’s story occur within the arenas of his internal world, the cyberworld, and the physical and social world, all of which are rapidly losing any autonomy they might have within an overall capitalist hierarchy on neoliberal steroids – not a break with 19th- and 20th-century capitalism, but the continuation of its brilliant, insidious, manipulative and anti-human development within mind and matter, mediated in two dimensions through your computer screen. It is a story to read as it is happening: now.