Aug 28, 2018

[Books] If Then Review

I feel like I've been rather negligent of my review reading queue given the so many things I've been juggling. So after enjoying a few of my regular authors I went back to the queue and brought up this particular title.

If Then is an unusual science fiction offering from Angry Robot Books that has a pretty far out premise with quite a number of unusual twists. It's a story set in some somewhat distant future but in itself feels like it's rather obsessed with the past and it all comes together somehow.

This is not the easiest book to read and it's pretty surprising how long it is. It can be argued that the book could have been divided into two novels given an actual split introduced int the book itself, but hey it is what it is. There are a lot of big ideas floating around in this text and I do appreciate the thought that went into the book. But at the same time it's tricky to follow all the ideas and the narrative at the same time along with all the implications of what unfolds.

Synopsis: If Then is a science fiction novel written by Matthew De Abaitua. Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book via NetGally in exchange for my honest opinion of the world.

In some near dystopian future, a small English town has found a new way to survive all that had happened. They have given themselves over to the Process, which is some sort of complex algorithm, that controls many aspects of the town including what they produce and what roles everyone serves in the community.

But one of the more controversial aspects of the Process involve regular evictions of citizens that are deemed to be no longer fit to remain. It's never quite clear how people get selected for eviction as this is all determined by the Process, but it never goes silently. And it relies James serving the role of the bailiff of the town. And what changes things is how James encounters what appears to be a member of a World War I military unit trapped in some barbed wire. Why the Process has decided to bring back soldiers is unclear and it falls to James to puzzle through the nature of the time-displaced soldier.

What I Liked: The whole premise of the novel is quite intriguing. To think that a community of people would entrust their lives to some machine-driven set of rules. And the story joins the town when everyone has largely accepted this new reality and accepts whatever the Process gives them. That's quite the leap of faith but I guess people can accept anything given enough time and rationalization I suppose.

As mentioned before there's a lot of philosophical discussions thrown about in terms of the nature of control, trusting the Process and letting things unfold the way they do. The book is quite ambitious in its scope and it really wants to push hard in terms of what this could all mean or what makes a functional community and all that sort of deal. It's pretty heavy stuff and you have to appreciate books that try to go in this direction.

What Could Have Been Better: A large part of the book is dedicated to the war that the Process ends up creating for itself and that was a weird experience. I know there were some ideas that needed to be communicated within the context of this World War I recreation but it did feel like it went on a little long. As much as this is a science fiction book because of the concepts, the war segment was an odd throwback that really put a lot of effort into depicting the situation of these stretcher bearers.

And with all the characters, I don't think we got a fully good resolution for James and his wife Ruth. They felt rather central in the beginning of the story before the war kicked into high gear but beyond that things just fizzled down into nothing and them meeting at the end didn't come across as all that emotionally compelling. The characters in this book didn't all get decent treatment beyond maybe James and later Omega John. Not even the solder Hector felt all that fleshed out by the end of things.

TL;DR: If Then is an interesting book but maybe not quite my typical fare, which made enjoying it harder than it could have been. It has a lot of great ideas and some interesting situations but there's a LOT of text that you need to get through before you get to that point. And thus the book gets a good 3 unusual decisions by the Process out of a possible 5.

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