System: With his face in the sun by Jon A Davidson

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System: With his face in the sun by Jon A Davidson

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A sci-fi glimpse of the future that pays homage to past masters like Orwell while revealing some original touches of its own. The subtly powerful front cover wraps a fascinating – if disturbing – view of an AI world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 346 Date: May 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1511491099

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Wallace Blair, like everyone else, is used to the benefits of a life guided by The System. After all, The System knows best. However he is somewhat dismayed when he wakes to a System message on his Commcuff informing him that his happy marriage is about to be dissolved and that's not his only concern. After being sent to retrieve papers from his grandfather's house, Wallace reflects on how long it's been since he's seen the old man. Wallace decides to drop in on him but what should be a trip to an elderly care facility takes him down an unexpected path.

This may be Jon A Davidson's debut novel but when it comes to the background to the world of The System, he certainly knows what he's writing about. Jon is not only an expert techie, he's a techie who has been there at the coal face; he's designed, developed and sold four award winningly successful technology companies. However, technophobes needn't fear – Jon speaks our language. His projected future is therefore highly accessible, drawing us in through moments of suspense and adventure between the easily understood scene-setting information.

The world that Jon builds comes across as being a partial homage to visionary writers like Orwell. (There are one or two others that come to mind but naming them would reveal spoilers, so I won't!) These nods to the past are interwoven with ideas extrapolated from his skill set and enlivened by his own imagination. In some ways depth of characterisation has been side-lined in favour of depth of surroundings but then these are the sort of surroundings that demand to be remembered.

For instance, the driverless car beloved of sci-fi for decades is here without seeming hackneyed. Considering the recent advances made in the field by companies like Google, it doesn't seem to be pie in the sky anymore. Similarly, The System itself has 1984 moments but there are times when, like Wallace, we don't know how it's going to react. Having said that there are some vignettes that are well flagged in advance, providing us with a readerly smug feeling for spotting them before our cast.

The title is itself may seem a little peculiar to begin with; however by the end it makes perfect sense – as will the Greek statue on the cover.

There are a few debut novel 'tells' that experience will smooth out such as stories we'd rather be shown than told and a couple of moments that don't quite ring true. However Jon's talent is apparent throughout as he creates an atmosphere of increasing darkness that intrigues as it entertains and provokes as much thought as excitement.

The chilling scenes in which the curtain is partially drawn back on The System's origins are so tantalising they left me wanting a prequel. More importantly, having read the author's biography, the depths of his technological expertise and the picture it conjures up (even if only half of this comes true) has left me more than a little worried about the world we seem to be sleep walking towards.

(Thank you to the author for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you like a good shady government in your sci-fi thriller, then we also heartily recommend Influx by Daniel Suarez.

You can read more about Jon A Davidson here.

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