In our current society the definition of 'privacy' is slowly shrinking. At first it was the progressive spread of photography that allowed anyone in public to have their photo taken (legally). The proliferation of mobile phones equipped with cameras means that the likelihood of being photographed or videoed for whatever reason has significantly increased compared to old bulky equipment. This factor is altogether increased by now-instantaneous uploading of recordings onto social media. Privacy and Facebook have always been at odds, with many of us being 'unelectable' due to our Facebook and/or internet histories that we cannot control.
Illicit programs means some people are likely having a swathe of personal information extracted from their computers without their knowledge, sometime including remote webcam activation. Even airport security has come to a technological level that they can effectively undress travelers with scanners. With the increased government controls on data exchange, we're likely to see that privacy reduced even further...
The culprit responsible for our reduced privacy is technology, and this great novel by sci-fi greats Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter attempts to demonstrate the reprecussions from taking this privacy reduction to an extreme.
Now, bear in mind that unlike many space operas (and largely the greatest failing of this novel), the characters are largely forgettable. The focus point of this story really is about the development of technology and the potential reprecussions; that is what will drive you to read this book multiple times. Essentially, in an effort to increase the media access to people's lives, the main protagonist develops 'Wormcams', a machine that enables the user to open a small wormhole anywhere they choose that allows light to filter through.
Progressively, this machine spreads and allows most people to access anyone else's lives without their knowledge (the wormhole is microscopic and consequently invisible). Society progressively accepts that there is now no such thing as privacy, and the authors are very explicit describing the consequences. Governments cannot hide dirt anymore, there is no point in spying of any sort. Lying also becomes less common, why would one lie when people are free to check up on the lies without their knowledge? People have sex in public (why bother with a bedroom when you're likely to have people looking in anyway). The implications for society in itself are mind-boggling, and it is very enjoyable to read the author's great desciption of the consequences of banishing privacy altogether (though bear in mind there is no thought-police like Orwell's 1984: the machine can only pick up light).
At this stage comes the best part of this novel: if you can open a wormhole anyplace, there is nothing stopping the user from opening a wormhole anytime. Of course the users can't look into the future, but they are free to look into the past. The owners of Wormcam go on to explore the important historical events that defined our society: Abraham Lincoln's life and assassination as well as Jesus' (relatively normal) existance. It's fascinating to imagine what historical event the reader would look back to, wondering if it had been depicted accurately.
HISTORY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
The authors really make the reader aware of how important the effect of the historical recorder can be on our perception of history. For the most part, current society has been limited by the written word to record historical events. What happens when the recorder has bad vision/hearing? What if he's recording second-hand? What if his writing skills are bad at depicting the events? What if the reader was bad at translating to modern languages (a very common issue for old texts that have been retranslated multiple times).
Anyone could apply this to any historical event, and this creates great amounts of doubt. The events that have shaped our society, our nations and our cultures may have never happenned in the first place, and currently we would be none the wiser. Consider yourself: what historical figure do you respect and look up to? What if they were a completely different person than you thought they were? What if a lowly aide was responsible for infusing greatness into others? What if the cascade they had started happenned arbitrarily?
This novel has the potential to completely change the reader's perspective on history, and for that reason alone I think this book deserves everyone's attention.