Really good future sci-fi has always been prescient but writers, scientists and readers can see that the gap between science fiction and fact is narrowing, this story reflects that. The Actuality walks that ever thinning line between science fantasy and reality. The world that Evie, a bioengineered human, inhabits in the novel is an all too plausible imagining of the future. Scientific advance contrasts with the decay of rampant climate change, pollution and the collapse of civil society. The melding of these key issues make this a relevant and thought provoking read. So Evie’s world is all too plausible, this is a dystopian future that imagines a credible decaying physical and political environment and a rise of authoritarianism. This is a story about a new normal and an awakening and awareness of self. What it is to be a sentient being – The Actuality.
Evie has been with Matthew for forty-one years and doesn’t look a day over twenty-one. Exactly as she looked when she was created to replace Matthew’s dead love Evelyn. Evie has a child like innocence and a trusting nature but somewhere in the back of her head is a voice niggling away at her. Matthew won’t live forever and what then, what becomes of Evie? The only other contact Evie has is with Daniel who works for Matthew. Evie has been programmed to be replicate Evelyn, to reflect her likes, to behave the way she used to, as Matthew sees it. To please her husband, his memory of his love – only he’s not her husband he’s her master.
When the police coming crashing into their flat one day suspicions are raised about Evie. Highly developed artificial autonomous beings were outlawed in 2110. Evie wasn’t registered, her existence was a secret, if the authorities find out what she is she will be confiscated, her memory and functionality wiped, perhaps ending up as an exhibit in a museum. The police are not the only danger, there’s a black market for an Elektra model, Evie is now virtually unique. It would be enough money to set someone up for life. A violent incident forces Evie on the run, her innate desire to trust makes her an easy target and it’s very difficult for her to distinguish between friend and foe.
“She had never had to terminate a relationship of any sort, but realises, even with her lack of experience, that the situation requires her to stay strong. ‘I’ll go this evening as soon as it’s dark.’
Soon Evie discovers more of herself beneath the character of Evelyn, suppressed by the life she has been living. Meanwhile, Evie is being hunted, she finds others who need her help along the way but she always faces betrayal as soon as she is alone in the outside world. Evelyn has an idea of where she can go to find out about herself.
The Actuality is a stimulating and thrilling read, the technology and science, AI and the nature of sentience, are cleverly and insightfully woven into a story of what it is to be human. There’s an ecological message, and a questioning of AI and it’s role in our future here. The contrast between the light and dark sides or humanity, compassion and understanding versus violence and duplicity, the good and the bad – the destructive nature of mankind is explored. A genuinely entertaining sci-fi thriller.
Reviewed by Paul Burke
Sandstone Press, hardback,
ISBN 9781913207168, January 2021.