REVIEW: “The Future is Yours” by Dan Frey

Have you ever read one of those books that immediately envelops your interest? One that just grabs your attention and holds it like a vice, daring you to put the book down? There’s nothing quite like reading a book like that. It’s a high that all readers chase as often as they can. Reading Dan Frey’s newest sci-fi techno-thriller, The Future is Yours, created just that experience for me. The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel and tells its story through writing found within the novel’s world (like emails, text messages, blog posts, transcripts of congressional hearings). As a result, it creates a reading experience unlike those found in prose-based novels. The Future is Yours is a face-paced, thrilling read that asks what might happen if humans could access information from the future and then thoroughly unpacks all the reasons why humans shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s a nuanced page-turner with fully-fleshed characters and a well-executed premise that’s well worth a read for all sci-fi fans. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, this review is spoiler free.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined. Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel that tells the story of two friends, Ben (a businessman with two failed startups under his belt) and Adhi (a socially anxious computer scientist), who come together to create a new kind of computer—one that can deliver information from exactly one year in the future. The book follows them as they bring the computer to market, encountering Silicon Valley politics, congressional investigations, personal betrayals, and a potential apocalypse along the way.

I often find epistolary novels to be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes, they get too bogged down with exposition and never manage to coalesce into anything compelling. Other times, there’s not enough exposition, and the reader is left flailing about, trying to catch up with what’s going on. Modern epistolary novels have the additional problem of feeling gimmicky—Romeo and Juliet retold through text messages will always feel like a cash grab. These kinds of books walk a fine line between being enjoyable and unbearably kitschy. Luckily, The Future is Yours perfectly walks that line. It utilizes its various textual sources not as a gimmick but as a way of further exploring its themes. There’s a transcript of a congressional hearing that acts as a throughline for the book, allowing various congresspeople to interrogate Ben about the various potential ethical and societal issues that might come with using the technology his company’s created. There are news articles gathered from the novel’s future, elaborating on the societal reaction to the technology being widely available. What results is a book that doesn’t just feel like a gimmick. All of the in-universe sources feel grounded in the world Frey’s created. Each piece coalesces into a story that feels like it couldn’t have been told any other way.

A lot of praise should be directed towards how well Frey structures the book. It would have been very easy to overload the reader with too much exposition at the beginning of the book—like including an in-universe biography of the characters or something like that. But that’s not what Frey does here. Instead, we learn background information about the characters and the world as they become relevant. The plot is conveyed naturalistically through the characters’ communications—research reports handle explaining how the technology works, emails between the duo and their business partners explain how the business works, etc. The whole thing results in an experience unlike any other. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that someone has gathered all of these documents together and is presenting them in a way where each one builds off of the previous ones. For a book that’s about time travel, there’s a surprising amount of linear storytelling that happens. As you read the book, Frey lays out all of the information in such a way that you can kind of predict where the story is going—but not in a disappointing way. The book never feels derivative or too predictable. Instead, everything just feels fully developed and well-explored. The ideas explored within The Future is Yours aren’t ones that have been previously explored, which is why it is sometimes easy to see where things are going. But the way they’re explored in this book feels wholly unique and I was enthralled from beginning to end.

The book’s greatest strength is probably its characters—specifically how realistic they feel. From page one, Ben and Ahdi feel fully formed and three-dimensional. Naturally, much of this is due to great swaths of the book being comprised of communication between the two characters, in the form of emails and text messages and research reports written by one to the other. Through these writings, Frey expertly brings readers into the minds of these characters. We understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Their realness helps keep the book grounded, which helps the broader sci-fi elements land better. And the more we get to know the characters, the easier it is for us to guess what they’re going to do. Again, this ability to predict aspects of the story never feels disappointing. After all, the book is largely about the inevitability of the future and whether or not it can be changed. Frey simply explores his characters so well that it’s easy to understand their mindsets. And when you understand a character’s mindset, it can be easy to predict what they might do. And, honestly, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had in making predictions that end up being correct. I adored getting to know these characters in such a deep way. For as much as the book is about the technology created by these two friends, it’s even more about their friendship—how it leads to this incredible invention and how that invention impacts their friendship.

Epistolary novels often feel very slow, bogged down by lengthy diary entries or letters. The lack of traditional prose in those novels ends up creating a more lethargic feeling. The Future is Yours, however, is comprised of a variety of sources, all of which are mostly short. This brevity helps establish the kind of faster pace that you might find in a prose-based novel. In all honesty, I didn’t find myself missing the prose at all. This isn’t the kind of story that needs a bunch of lengthy passages describing characters’ feelings, or exactly what a room looks like, or exactly what is happening in any given moment. Instead, Frey allows the various pieces of writing to establish all that needs establishing. The congressional hearings provide a narrative backbone, the emails and text messages provide the dialogue, the longer blog posts and news articles provide the backstory, etc. The variety of sources largely bridges the gap left by the lack of traditional prose and it’s amazing how none of this ends up resulting in a slow, boring book. I breezed through this book because Frey kept cutting between the various pieces of writing, interweaving between the various sources as needed. There are moments of exposition, moments of philosophical discussion, and moments of tension and excitement, but none of these outweigh each other. The Future is Yours is perfectly balanced, with pacing that could rival any of the best prose-based thrillers.

All in all, The Future is Yours is a fantastic read. It’s immediately captivating, holding the reader’s attention from its first page to its final one. The characters are fully-formed, with each of them possessing believable backstories and relationships that carefully unfold over the novel’s length. By writing an epistolary story, Frey invites his readers to feel like they are part of the book. Reading The Future is Yours is like getting to be in the world of the story. Readers get to read these documents and experience the book’s events from the vantage point of one living it. The ending is a little abrupt, though, and quite likely too ambiguous for many readers. But the rest of the book more than makes up for this. Plus, I’ll always prefer an open-ended ending in stories like this. At the end of the day, if you’re into near-future sci-fi thrillers, The Future is Yours is the book for you.

4.5 out of 5 wands.

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