I recently read Smythe's The Machine
and thought it was so brilliant that I immediately wanted to read everything else he's ever written. This has the same intriguing intelligence about it, and a wonderful originality combined with fluent writing but doesn't have the technical mastery or emotional grip of the latest book.
Set in a world a few years in our future (9/11 was 20 years ago), this has a gripping set-up: one day, out of the blue, a burst of static is heard around the world and then a voice speaks. Is it god, and, if so, whose? Aliens? Technology?
The book is written as a series of short revolving testimonies from a range of characters from out of work Russians, to an MP, to the Chief of Staff at the White House. Not all of them are interesting, and the voices are mostly the same: everyone speaks with an educated, English cadence - even the Americans.
This isn't a book to read if you like to have all your ends tied up, as the narrative doesn't offer any answers to what happened. What is does do with frightening intensity is show how fragile our conceptions of culture and civilisation are, and how quickly our world can spiral out of control.
The constantly shifting narrators means that I never felt emotionally attached to any of the characters, and this has none of the atmosphere of The Machine which makes that book so compelling.
So this is intelligent, probing and original - but the good news is that Smythe's got even better since. If you haven't read The Machine
I strongly recommend it.