We all know that the rapid pace of technology is changing the world as we know it. But what about the long-term impact of ‘disruptive technologies’ on society? Here, Female First reviews a new novel by the British author Ryan Weeks which explores the darker side of technology – and the darker side of city life.

Ryan Weeks

Ryan Weeks

By Lucy Bryson for Female First

This smart, satirical tech-thriller (a new genre, possibly?) from technology journalist and industry insider Ryan Weeks is a page-turning tale of prostitutes, pimps, police and a smartphone app.

A cautionary tale with shades of Black Mirror, Weeks’ darkly humorous debut novel brings a shadowy London underworld of sex-for-sale on a collision course with sharp-suited Millennials-about-town, as a disillusioned ‘tech evangelist’ sets about developing an Uber-type app for the city’s sex trade.

Don’t expect a sleazy read - Weeks doesn’t dwell on the bedroom details. He instead raises some pertinent questions about the rapid rise of so-called ‘disruptive technology’ (to the uninitiated, this refers to companies that emerge seemingly from nowhere to shake up entire industries - Airbnb and Uber being good cases in point) and its impact on society.

As the editor of leading financial technology website AltFi.com, the author has witnessed first-hand the way that developments such as peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing have changed the way the financial world works, and his ringside view has given him plenty of material for this satirical novel about the potentially dangerous impact of disruptive technology on daily life.

The book focuses on the lives of four key characters - privileged ‘tech-evangelist’, Annie O’Mahoney; sex worker, Elena; ruthless pimp Emerson; and police detective, Warren. When Annie develops a web app to bring sex workers off the street and eliminate the need for a middleman (in this case the pimps, who don’t take kindly to having their role erased), these characters’ lives are set to come into violent conflict.

With liberal use of buzzwords, Annie encourages her best friend Veronica to assist her in making the sex industry ‘faster, fairer and more modern’; and the initial chapters follow the pair’s imaginative methods of spreading the word about the app among the street workers of London.

Weeks’ book imagines what happens when Annie’s rather unsexily-named app Pimple becomes a victim of its own success, with London’s pimps violently objecting to the changes to their core trade.

The book raises some very valid questions and concerns about legislation of the sex trade, and how best to protect those working in the industry (sometimes against their will, another point the author makes); and about accountability among those developing game-changing technology.

But far from being a po-faced moral tale, it’s written with a generous dash of dark humour, and Weeks is savvy enough to poke fun at his own millennial generation, with their smashed avocado-and-prosecco brunches and their relentless desire to create an app for everything.

The action flows at a fast-pace, and the gripping action begins early - a wave of violent crimes against female prostitutes has London’s sex workers on high alert - and doesn’t let up until the last page.

It’s a novel concept for a thriller, and one which largely succeeds - the characters and scenarios are skilfully brought to life, and Weeks writes with a journalist’s skill for witty word play. At times this backfires - some of the dialogue feels inauthentic - but does little to detract from the page turning nature of what is really an impressive debut.

The book packs a lot into little over 200 pages, and readers may well find they devour it in one ‘binge-read’; but may well be mulling over the issues for some time after they put the book down.

It would be easy to imagine Pimple translating well to the big screen (or even a small screen, for the Netflix generation), and on this evidence it looks like Weeks is very much one to watch among new writers.

Ryan Weeks is the editor of AltFi.com, one of the leading news and intelligence resources for ‘fintech’ (financial technology) in the UK. Pimple explores the dramatic consequences of technological disruption. It is out now through Amazon UK priced £10.99 in paperback and 99p in ebook.