I’ve been bedridden with a gross chest infection. It’s been the worst, but also the best because I’ve actually had time to read. I’d just finished The Wicked Cometh on Tuesday evening and was raring to start another book.
Weeks ago I requested a copy of the new James Smythe novel I Still Dream which is due out in April 2018. It was a real judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover moment when I first saw the proof, there was a little sticker on the front saying “Cloud Atlas meets Black Mirror” so I was completely on board.
I Still Dream is the first novel I’ve read by James Smythe, I’m not sure why I’d left it this long to read one of his books as he’s always come highly recommended by other booksellers.
At the age of 17 Laura Bow has invented Organon. Organon begins as a sound-board or kind of responsive journal for all of her teenage dilemmas, everything Laura is experiencing she’s offloading to Organon.
As she grows Organon grows.
The first chapters of I Still Dream will give anyone born in the 80s the most cringeworthy flashbacks. I instantly fell into Laura’s life, I was one hundred percent there. Laura’s experience of the coming technological revolution is written with perfection. Out loud I sighed “oh my god” when reading Laura’s inner debate about the comparisons between the quality of using Sony cassettes or Maxwell ones. Just trying to stifle the noise of your modem booting up was every teenager’s nightmare in ’97. Smythe’s writing was grounded, real and oh too reminiscent of going to a rubbish secondary school in the 90s.
The book takes an unexpected jump forward and your realise you’re in for the long-ride. I was a little sad to leave teenage Laura behind, she didn’t give a shit and I just wanted to read about her sitting in her room programming Organon.
It’s been so long since I’ve read a novel so quickly. I think it’s wrong to compare I Still Dream to Cloud Altas because Cloud Atlas can be a real slog sometimes, this book isn’t like that. Every page holds so much, if you want to put I Still Dream alongside a David Mitchell book put it alongside The Bone Clocks. There’s a lot of comparisons you make between Holly Sykes in The Bone Clock and Laura Bow but Smythe’s character feels more reserved. Laura’s compassionate and protective, unfortunately not always to the people around her but to Organon she’s maternal. She’s grown Organon from the piece of code that began it all but she’s guarded when it comes to who’s hands this software is in.
This book is a brilliant technological adventure that dabbles with the morals of artificial intelligence and privacy but also tells the story of the human experience. The latter half of the novel is almost anxiety inducing, it holds a mirror up to surveillance and how much of our lives are there for everyone to see. Smythe’s book is about choice, compassion and knowledge and what we do when we pass these things on to AI. You see both sides of the coin, good and bad. Going forward we’re integrating AI into our day to day and people like me who aren’t necessarily tech-minded don’t see the depth of the information that these programs are learning. This book sheds light on a fascinating part of our future.
Anyway, this has been one of the best books I’ve read all year and I can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on this outstanding novel next. Regardless it’s a fascinating book about artificial intelligence or just a fun novel about a Kate Bush song?
If you enjoyed Ex-Machina or Black Mirror (especially the episodes The Entire History of You, Be Right Back and San Junipero) you have to read this novel. It’s every bit as thrilling and touching as you can get. I’d also recommend Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari or Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom for further reading.