Well, that was a mindfuck. Westworld’s seventh episode, “Trompe L’Oeil,” just revealed that Bernard is in fact a secret host. This has two important implications for the show: Firstly, as that was a longstanding fan theory, it opens the door for other fan theories to be true. The notion that William is the Man in Black doesn’t seem so crazy anymore. Secondly, it makes it clear once and for all that if a host versus guest showdown is on the horizon, the responsibility lies with Ford and the programmers. If this episode blew your mind and you want to find entertainment that will evoke the same feelings, we suggest the following books.
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Bernard was always asking Dolores if she ever questioned the nature of her reality, but it turned out he should have been asking himself that question. When Theresa inadvertently discovers the truth and a heartbroken, panicking Bernard says, “I can’t be a host. My son is real,” you can practically see his entire world crashing down around him. Similarly, Never Let Me Go revolves around characters whose reality is not quite what it seems. It keeps you guessing until the slow-burn disturbing reveal. Quieter and more contemplative than Westworld, it nevertheless captures the spirit of the episode’s final scene.
2. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
In the same vein as Never Let Me Go, this is an “oh shit” final twist book, but it skews closer to Westworld than the former. Its twist is louder, more dramatic, and does not work for all readers, but it sure makes a statement. It’s also permeated by an aura of conspiracy and possible corporate espionage and set in an era filled with bowler hats and cigars.
3. The Sand-Man by E.T.A. Hoffmann
This is technically a short story, and you can read it for free here. Although the language is dense, as it was originally published in 1816, this is one of the best stories about automatons and robots. Like Westworld, its twist-ladden plot keeps you guessing until the end, and its final reveal hits you like a gut-punch in the best possible way.
4. This Census-Taker by China Miéville
Miéville is a master of the surreal in all his work. This novella mixes Westworld’s timeless feeling of simultaneously balancing an alternate near-future setting and an antiquated past and of having an unbalanced give-and-take with reality and the main character’s sense of personhood.
5. Mermaids In Paradise by Lydia Millet
This novel involves mermaids rather than cowboys and is far more tongue-and-cheek than Westworld, but it has the same atmosphere of corporate conspiracy. Reader and characters alike come to discover that their surroundings are not what they seem to be and a wild ride ensues, complete with an unexpected ecological dimension. As a bonus, Millet excels at evoking laughs on every page, making the story a hell of a pick-me-up. Be warned, its final two pages contain a weird twist, but the rest of the story is worth it.
Photos via HBO