Rabbits by Terry Miles

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Review by Annabel

As I sat down to start reading this book, a tweet pinged on my phone and I glanced over – someone had commented on a post of a photo of an object with a face on it being an example of ‘pareidolia’. It was a new word to me, so I looked it up – it means seeing patterns where there are none and typically faces on ordinary objects. It’s a specific type of ‘apophenia’ – the human tendency to seek patterns in random information.

Think of Hamlet and Polonius arguing about whether a cloud is in the shape of a camel, a weasel or a whale, or Rorschach ink blot tests and that’s pareidolia sussed, but apophenia extends the concept to any medium—be it playing music backwards or slowly to reveal hidden messages or the coincidence of suddenly coming across the same things or changed things in unexpected places—you get the picture? Well, Rabbits would superficially appear to be all about apophenia, but what if these hidden messages weren’t coincidence, what if they were real and part of a secret, addictive and potentially deadly game?

Many think they know about Rabbits, but few will get to actually play it. It’s a bit like Fight Club: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Little is known about those who’ve played and those who’ve won during the game’s previous ten iterations, which began back in the 1950s. Such is the mythology that has built up around it, that K, a computer gamer, regularly gives well-attended talks about it at the Magician’s arcade, where his friend Chloe works. The eleventh round of Rabbits could start any time, and many, including K, would love to find the elusive way in.

K finishes his talk, the crowd disperses, and one man remains. Alan Scarpio is a reclusive billionaire; he was alleged to have won the latest round. He’s come to find K and give him a mission. Something has gone wrong with Rabbits, and unless it can be fixed before Eleven starts it could be the end of the world. A few days later, Scarpio is declared missing, and K finds the sign that the game has begun again – uh oh?  Is he too late? As soon as K discovers clues and pieces together information from other players, they start to go missing too.  Can he and Chloe work out what’s happening—and save the world?

Take all the best conspiracy theories, blend with a bit of The X-Files and old movie War Games, add plenty of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, William Gibson’s cyberpunk and Dave Egger’s The Circle and a sprinkle of Dr Who’s ‘timey-wimey’ shenanigans and you have a recipe for the bonkers, totally addictive spec fiction mystery that is Rabbits! I was quickly hooked and found this book nearly impossible to put down.

K is an interesting protagonist and narrator, labelled “slightly neurodiverse” as a child, with an eidetic memory. Before they died in a ferry accident when he was seventeen, K’s parents used to train him to see connections between pictures, or as a game in real life, (say no more). Others have died around K too, including when he first unknowingly encountered a player of the game. These traumas have contributed to hi, suffering from severe types of blackout/seizures when under stress. If the game doesn’t kill him, the stress of playing it just might.

When asked to pinpoint the precise moment they’d heard about the game, people often can’t remember. Maybe they’d seen something on some obscure online bulletin board, or read a snippet of a conversation about hidden “kill screens” in arcade games from the 1980s. Or perhaps it was a friend of a friend talking about a kid who’d died while playing a strange Atari 2600 game that nobody can remember actually existing.

I remember exactly where I was standing when I first heard the name Rabbits.

It was at a party in Lakewood, Washington.

Although global in reach, Rabbits is centred around the US north-western tech hub of Seattle, which gives it a distinctly counter-culture geeky feel that is different to if it had been set in say California. Author Terry Miles obviously has a great love for all the old computer and video game systems, as the pages are full of retro-technology, which plays such part in the history and ongoing life of Rabbits. The text is rich in cultural references from film and television too, which adds to the scene-setting and flash-back sequences in particular. It’s not all retro-flavoured though, the speculative side to this novel brings us glimpses of future-tech too.

The increasing paranoia seeps off the pages as the action ramps up in this mind-bending and page-turning techno-thriller. Having finished reading it, I was left wishing that there could be a real (non-fatal though) game of Rabbits to find and to put my new-found knowledge of apophenia to the challenge!

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Annabel is Co-founder and an editor of Shiny New Books. She’s on the hunt for the opening to iteration Twelve…

Terry Miles, Rabbits (Macmillan, 2021). 978-1529016932, 432pp., hardback.

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