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Search tags: James-Smythe
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review 2018-06-16 21:11
I Still Dream
I Still Dream - James Smythe

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Although I didn’t adore this book, I found it to be an interesting take on artificial intelligence; on what contributes to developing an AI; on the trials and errors involved, and on how the best intentions can be tainted by poor execution, like what happens with SCION. Because, to paraphrase what Laura says about it in the novel, if you teach a child to fight and retaliate, what does it teach them about life and how to react to whatever comes their way?

The story had its ebb and flow, sometimes a little too slow to my liking, but always intriguing. I usually don’t mind when a story jumps from one time period to another, and/or doesn’t always rely on the same narrator, as long as I can follow it. And here, I didn’t have any trouble following, even when the first person narrator didn’t introduce themselves at first (like what happens with Charlie or Cesar). This approach lets the author play with more than just Laura’s take on both Organon and SCION—which was good, since it’s easily apparent that Organon is built upon all that Laura poured into it, and having only Laura’s POV would have felt, to me, slightly… constricting?

My opinion about the plot remains mixed, though, in that the novel seems to hover between being character-driven and being story-driven, while not fully achieving either. I liked the take on developing artificial intelligence—I don’t know much about coding, and I wouldn’t know how to even start about something so huge, and it felt plausible to me. On the other hand, I kept thinking that I wanted the character development part to go a little further than it did, because I felt that there remained some invisible barrier between me and the characters.

This said, I still got to see enough about Laura and the beings (whether the people or the AIs) surrounding her to get a fairly good idea of the characters, too, and of their struggles through life, especially when it came to dementia and similar memory- and recognition-related troubles. So, I definitely wouldn’t say either that the book was a failure in that regard.

Perhaps the one part that really disappointed me was the last chapter, which dragged on making the same point several times. I think it would’ve been more powerful had it been much shorter.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend the book, for the way it puts AI creation and destruction in parallel with the growing up and the decaying of human minds. (Also, listening to ‘Cloudbusting’ while reading it doesn’t hurt.)

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-05-31 08:20
Way Down Dark - JP Smythe
Way Down Dark (Australia) - J.P. Smythe

Way Down Dark is a book I picked up at a convention last year, partly attracted by the cover and my decision cemented by hearing the author speak on a couple of panels, even though I don't particularly 'do' YA dystopia novels. The premise sounded interesting enough though, given that it's set on a spaceship rather than (as seems par for the course) the ruins of a destroyed USA, that I thought I'd give it a go...

 

The main character is Chan, just turned seventeen, whose parents and grandparents have never known a life other than the one they have on the spaceship Australia - they've been told all about how Earth was ruined and ships sent off in search of a new home but have no way of knowing how long they've travelled. Inside the ship itself, life is hard and many of the inhabitants have joined different factions with very much a 'kill or be killed' mentality ruling over their daily lives. To protect Chan, her dying mother insists Chan kills her so that the kudos from this act will enhance her reputation and the aftermath of this act affects the rest of the storyline. 

 

The ship is pretty much at a tipping point when the story starts, with one particular factor beginning to expand into all of the available space and destroying everyone in their way. Initially Chan doesn't resist, following her mother's admonition to 'be selfish', but she is finally pushed too far and begins to react to what's going on but without any particular plan. When things go wrong, her mother's friend offers Chan a lifeline which she then turns into something of a crusade and which sets up the rest of the trilogy (which continues in Long Dark Dusk). As we discover, things are not quite what they seem where the Australia is concerned and the stories Chan has been told about why they're on-board are barely even true. 

 

I have to say, this is not YA dystopia with a heavy sauce of teen romance poured over it. There is a main male character, Jonah, whose fate we're left uncertain about at the end of the book though I won't be at all surprised if he pops up again in the next book, but there's really only a tiny spark of interest between the two of them from Chan's perspective. In the end, I think what stopped me giving this book 5 stars was that it backs away from the more physical nature of what being a 17 year old girl is like - it could be due to their insufficient diet but Chan doesn't apparently have periods. There also seems to be minimal sexual activity going on around her despite the large number of children of various ages running around the ship. I may be the only person who thinks about things like this, but these kind of things are enough to bug me into dropping a star. 

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review 2016-01-06 11:10
The Explorer - James Smythe
The Explorer - James Smythe

I somehow liked this book. It's a strange story. Right from the start you learn that all of Cormac Eastons crewmembers died. One after the other. Then Cormac is alone on this space ship and nothing really happens. Then this time loop happens and Cormac sees his journey again. And he gets to know why all his crewmates died.

 

I cannot explain why this story got me. Cormac is a strange narrator. He is not so entertaining as the Martian Mark Watney. He is quite the opposite. He also lacks some empathy. But I liked the dark atmosphere and I wanted to know what happend at the end. So, I quite enjoyed it.

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review 2015-08-11 00:00
Way Down Dark (Australia)
Way Down Dark (Australia) - J.P. Smythe Actual Rating 3.5

Hundreds of years ago, people fled a dying Earth in search of a new home. They never found one.

Everything the people on the spaceship Australia remember now is from the stories that were handed down, generation to generation; there is no permanent record of any of it. All the books have long since crumbled, and any scraps of use – be they fabric, metal scavenged from the ship itself, or items collected from the decomposing bodies in the pit at the bottom of the ship – have been recycled, many times over.

The only place they can get anything new or fresh is the arboretum, a greenhouse that hangs in the middle of their ship, where they can work to pick fruit and vegetables. Everything else is recycled and turned into food, water, or clothing.

Everything we wear is recycled, like the air, like the water, but how they get their materials is different. They scavenge. We’ve come to accept it: that they go to the Pit at the bottom of the ship, take what they need from the bodies and then clean it, dye it, re-cut it. They turn the scraps into something new and you’d never know where they originally came from. Rumour has it, even the dyes they use come from down there. Rumour has it that they harvest skin with tattoos and recycle the colour from them, draining it out of the dead skin, soaking it out and breaking it down. I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels like it could be.


The rest of this review can be found here!
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review 2015-08-03 19:34
Way Down Dark
Way Down Dark: Australia Book 1 - J.P. Smythe

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Life on the Australia spaceship is hard: the Earth is gone, only handfuls of survivors were sent on such ships through space, in the hopes that someday they'd find a new place to live... but aren't these travellers way too entrenched in destructive ways to even reach that someday? This is what I found deeply intriguing and nagging in this novel: a strong dichotomy between the goal, the Promised Earth, and how the ship's people were getting to it. Telling myths and stories about their origins... yet living almost day to day only, as if not hoping in anything else anymore. Some of them taking care of their arboretum and their few other sources of goods... yet others bent on destroying, conquering, killing, razing down whatever they could, just because they could. Trying to survive by scrapping out metal and other bits of the ship. And all the while, those colonists remained trapped in their own microcosm, unable—or unwilling—to do more than that, their world torn between various gangs.

This is when you know that the society Chan's living in is completly upside down, and that something has gone terribly wrong. And the twist, although there are several hints and it's not so difficult to guess, pretty much fits.

Chan was a likeable enough protagonist: headstrong, wanting to help others, but not immune to bits of selfishness and cowardice, as she was trying to keep her promise to her mother ("don't die"). Not a perfect girl, not a special girl, but one who knew from the beginning she wasn't a special snowflake and that her only way of ensuring her survival was to bank on her mother's reputation and make it her own, using tricks and carefulness. The choices she made could've been made by many, many people: can you decide who to save when you do have some power (fighting...), only it's obvious you'll just never have enough? However naive some of her choices seemed to be, Chan tried to do what she felt was right by her fellow dwellers on the ship. She had a nice balance of good and bad sides, bringing humanity into chaos and madness. She could easily have let herself become a Rex, but she really tried not to. And she didn't spend most of the story swooning over some guy(s), which is always a nice change.

I liked the violent, brutal society depicted here, even though as far as world building goes, it was stretched rather thin. However, this was partly justified by how many decades, centuries had passed since the ship had left Earth: history decayed into gritty myth, and without much guidance, the minds of the people themselves started "decaying" as well. Though it may be seen as simplistic, it was also logical, all things considered, and was a good way of illustrating how narrow the world of the survivors had become.

On the other hand, the pacing of the story was a really problematic element for me. While it was necessary to illustrate how harsh life was on the Australia, the various events in Chan's life became redundant: be careful, try to work, barter, climb the gantries, escape the Lows, hide, climb up and down, hide some more, fight, get wounded, hide again, fight and get wounded again... After a while, it felt like filling between the strong starting point (Riadne's death) and the "big reveal"—and in a book that isn't so long, it's kind of annoying. This is why I'm not giving it a full 4 stars.

The end, too, brings closure to this first part of the trilogy (yay), but its cliffhanger was annoying nonetheless.

A pleasant read, one that kept me coming back to it, and that I liked overall. In the long run, I don't know if it's going to be that much more original than a lot of other dystopian YA stories out there. The ending seems to open towards something very different... or maybe not so? We'll see, we'll see.

3.5 stars.

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