Thursday 3 April 2014

The Machine - James Smythe

This is James Smythe's take on the Frankenstein story. As is usual with his work it is set in a version of the near future which has some dystopian features; here there has been a series of natural disasters which are eluded to throughout the story, but which are never explicitly explained. We know that a flood has made London a difficult place to live, and that the UK is now suffering from extreme, unrelenting heat but that is all. At the same time this is a world where the government has had to legislate to stop the public and medical use of 'the machine' a piece of hardware that is capable of removing and rewriting human memories. The legislation has been brought in after thousands of the machine's patients were left as shells with no memories or ability to function. The machine had been used both on dementia patients to restore impaired memories, and on soldiers returning from the war in the Middle East. These men were suffering from PTSD and it was seen as acceptable to use them as test subjects in memory removal. Beth's husband Vic was one of these men, and she now hopes that she can restore him to his old self by using an illicitly obtained machine. Everything about the process is difficult, and Beth soon feels as though the machine is taking over and corrupting everything in it's reach. Events start to spiral out of control, and Beth is forced to take action that she had never anticipated.
The story maintains many of the aspects of Shelley's original, we have Victor and his true love Elizabeth facing the deaths of those around them as they struggle to reconcile the possibilities of science with the existence and importance of the human soul. The story contains enough ambiguity to keep it totally fresh and enticing, and the idea of the gaps in human memories allowing natural darkness to seep through in a soulless individual is quite chilling.
 I must admit that I found this book more difficult to enjoy than some of the other novels I have read by Smythe. I found Beth's voice a little difficult to read for extended periods, and the whole novel is given exclusively from her viewpoint. Despite her evidently pitiable situation I found her hard to find empathy for, so much of the situation she found herself in could be traced back to her own choices and it wasn't really until the end that she seemed willing to accept any culpability. However, at a different point this objection probably would not have mattered for me, and it certainly did not detract from the overall effect of the novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment