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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Delusion by T.O. Paine is a fascinating insight into the power of suggestion and persuasion, especially using the internet and social media to control people and create situations. Emma is a psychologist scientist at the University of Baltimore researching the power of mass persuasion. She has sacrificed everything in her life -- relationships, social activities, spare time, and even her own mother’s desire for grandchildren -- to achieve the pinnacle of her academic career. But tonight it will be all worth it; tonight Emma and her team are certain to win the prestigious Tiberian Research Award in Psychology. This award will finally see Emma recognized and celebrated by her peers, it will create opportunities for further grant funding and academic advancement. She is convinced that winning this award will finally allow her the time to focus on her life, meet the man of her dreams, have children, and attain a satisfactory work/life balance, something she has assiduously denied herself for years. Although the night doesn’t quite go as planned, from Emma’s perspective, a much greater problem will soon tax her mind and her ingenuity. Her team leader at the University of Baltimore has gone missing and their research on mass persuasion techniques is being used by nefarious actors, through social media, to generate mass disorder and chaos. This is gaslighting on a truly global scale with potentially horrifying results. Emma must find her professor and somehow thwart those determined to control the minds of internet users the world over.
The Delusion is a terrifyingly believable scenario that some may suggest is already taking place through social media, albeit on a more limited scale than in this story. Author T.O. Paine presents a chillingly realistic narrative that all readers will be able to identify with. In today’s social media world, it is not hard to identify organizations that are using the power of the internet to achieve philosophical or commercial ends. This plot is just one step beyond what is already taking place in the world of advertising and political rhetoric. The characters are overdrawn but this necessarily adds the intensity and bite that the story requires, given its futuristic themes. Readers will empathize and identify with Emma. The work and effort, everything she had given up to achieve the team’s goals, was unappreciated and yet expected of her. The comparison with her colleague, the smooth-talking, suave Wilson doing the bare minimum to survive and yet always first in line when recognition or praise was to be had, highlighted the problem that so many women face not only in academia but right throughout the workforce. The idea of a global mass delusion doesn’t seem at all far-fetched when examined against the signs of the past few years with the political rhetoric from both sides of the spectrum. Who hasn’t heard and reacted to the “fake news” terminology of the past decade? This is a fun, adventurous novel that also raises some frightening questions that we as a civilization probably need to answer before it is too late. I enjoyed this book and can highly recommend it.