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THE PASSENGERS : a novel


London (CNN) Driverless cars will be on UK roads by 2021, says government.
Wed, February 6, 2019, (Lianne Kolirin)
The new technology is a step closer after UK ministers announced plans to move forward on advanced trials for automated vehicles… The new regulations seek to ensure that anyone trialing driverless cars must publish safety information, trial performance reports and carry out risks assessments…

The CNN excerpt is for real.
The Passengers by John Marrs, set in the “not-too-distant” future, is fiction. The nomenclature has changed – there are no longer drivers, they have become passengers. Fasten your seat-belts. This thriller will have you spinning pages.

The government’s propaganda campaign has been successful. Automated vehicles are 100% safe. Gone are the steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedal as well as the ability to override the AI system to take control of the vehicle. Sit back, watch TV, take a nap – all that is required of the passenger is a destination.

In the rare instance of an accident, the vehicle’s black box is retrieved and reviewed by a Vehicle Inquest Jury comprised of government authorities and one token civilian jurist selected at random. The jury process, more a symbolic gesture to appease the general population, is believed to be unnecessary as the vehicles are incapable of errors or the AI capable of being hacked.

One bright sunny day, the Vehicle Inquest Jury, led by a pompous cabinet minister, gathers to assess liability in six accidents. It is not long before the sole civilian jurist sets the cabinet minister on a verbal rampage when she questions his interpretation of events.

As tension builds in the jury room, eight hapless people enter separate driver-less vehicles- a young pregnant woman, a terrified wife finding the strength to escape her abusive husband, an old soldier shouldering his medals with dignity, an aging actress with a failing mind but an insatiable need for adoration, and four others.

Shortly after heading out, each passenger is startled to hear a strange voice calling out to them by name within their vehicle. After the message is finished, the windows become opaque and they each realize they have become a hostage.

The voice, known as the Hacker, says calmly, “It may have come to your attention that your vehicle is no longer under your management. From here on in, I am in charge of your destination… two hours and thirty minutes from now, it is highly likely you will be dead.

It is soon apparent that the Hacker’s intentions go well beyond terrorizing the eight passengers. Each local news station reports a sighting of a frantic passenger clawing to escape their vehicle. As it is realized there are eight hostages, the news spreads nationally at first; then globally through every news medium. Soon images from within each vehicle appear everywhere.

And just as suddenly, the situation expands to include the Vehicle Inquest Jury. The Hacker’s voice fills the jury room. The images of the startled jury and the irate cabinet minister are now part of the mystery. What unfolds is a horrific version of the Truman Show.

Every subsequent chapter draws the tension higher and higher. To share anymore would spoil the impact of each new revelation. It is a real nail-biter! With the advancement of self-driving vehicles currently under development and the privacy issues of our current social media sources, the reader is left hoping this fiction isn’t a prescient warning. Another 1984!

Highly entertaining  and recommended reading.

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