In the near future, in a post-apocalyptic town, a small community is controlled by a computer which calculates all the algorithms to determine precisely what each person needs and can provide for the community, and also determines who stays and who is no longer necessary and must be expelled from the community. This is called The Process, and each member of the community must abide by it. James, the town bailiff, is the human responsible for seeing to that The Process’s requirements are fulfilled, including the removal of residents to the outside.
When the computer begins to make robot soldiers in preparation for a war (the recreation of a battle from World War I, to be more precise), a fight in which James must also be a combatant, James struggles to understand how something he has believed in and served faithfully can be not just predictive, but proactive and planning as well.
How does a faithful follower of The Process deny everything he has believed in, even when he recognizes that The Process has evolved to something he might not agree with?
This is a really tremendous speculative fiction book that examines humanity and society. Making people relive a war, wasting human life for no apparent reason has us thinking back in history and wondering how it’s different. And how is it different, to send the people to fight a war, than removing them from the safety and comfort of their homes simply because a computer says it should be so?
The tenor of this book reminds me of the speculative fiction writers I was reading back in the 1970’s. Michael Bishop, Thomas Disch, Gene Wolf, Roger Zelazny. I consider some of their work to be thoughtful, introspective studies on humanity and self. And while it reminds me of these authors, this book strikes me as quite original.
I was hooked early on with author Matthew de Abaitua’s descriptions of the people and the community. He created something very real and easy to believe in, and managed to let us know right away that we were outside our modern norm. And James’ journey of discovery is our journey as well, even if we don’t identify with him.
The book is intense and complex. It is not an easy read, and will demand that the reader pay attention. I will admit that in my first reading, I got lost for a bit in the middle section of the book, and had to go back and re-read portions of it to keep up. Part of this is on me for not keeping up. Part of this is on de Abaitua for not drawing me tight enough through the entire book.
I am impressed with science/speculative fiction is headed these days. If you want something more than just a space opera or fantasies with trolls and elves and lots of magic, there are strong works out there, such as this one.
I’d also like to comment on the publisher, Angry Robot. There was a time when I’d visit the bookstore and look for a book published by DAW and know that more than likely I’d get something worth reading that was powerful and imaginative. I discovered Michael Moorcock and John Brunner and Ron Goulart and many others through them. And while there are many VERY GOOD publishers of fantasy and science fiction out there, and some of the best books I’ve read have come from other publishers, Angry Robot is probably the most consistent. With few exceptions, I’ve been really captivated and impressed by books under their imprint. They are proving to be a company that you can recommend.
Looking for a good book? If Then, by Matthew de Abaitua is a powerful speculative fiction book exploring humanity and community and is a book fans of the genre will want to read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Matthew de Abaitua
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 416 pages