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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
I thought this was a brilliant book. It is intelligent, thoughtful and completely gripping.

I cannot really describe the plot without giving away too much, so I won't. The publishers' synopsis is right - this is a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century (it is set in the near future). It is a fantastic piece of storytelling: the rather deadpan prose is...
Published 7 months ago by Sid Nuncius

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going downbeat book
I've previously read a few dystopian novels but stories which edge towards scifi are not my usual reading material. This one sounded interesting though as I was intrigued by the idea of rebuilding someone based on his memories - ultimately is it our memories that make us?
My main problem with the book is the thoroughly depressing tone which permeates all through. I...
Published 5 months ago by Janie U


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 7 Sep 2013
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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I thought this was a brilliant book. It is intelligent, thoughtful and completely gripping.

I cannot really describe the plot without giving away too much, so I won't. The publishers' synopsis is right - this is a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century (it is set in the near future). It is a fantastic piece of storytelling: the rather deadpan prose is excellent, the narrative extremely well paced, the characters utterly convincing and the plot developments fascinating and unpredictable. James Smythe generates a brilliant air of menace both in the plot and setting, which builds slowly and gripped me completely. The book, as well as being a page-turning story, is a thoughtful look at the nature of memory, at what makes us the people we are and at what might happen if the fundamentals of our characters and memories are altered.

It is hard to give more of flavour of this book because I am wary of spoilers, but I warmly recommend it to anyone who likes a dark, unsettling but very intelligent and thought-provoking read which will keep you up late to finish it. It is one of the best things I have read for some time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie, intense and utterly gripping, 25 Aug 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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I don't want to say anything about the plot since anything beyond the publisher's blurb would be a spoiler - but, for once, the publisher has got it spot on: this really is a Frankenstein for now... but Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein with its epigraph from Milton's Paradise Lost, not the trashy film versions.

This is an eerie and menacing story that is written with a light but very assured touch. The claustrophobic setting suits the grim plot perfectly, and the narrative itself is beautifully controlled - small things that we notice but don't dwell on come back to haunt us, and it's not until the shocking ending that everything falls perfectly into place.

It's not often that I'm surprised by a plot but this one really did creep up on me. Not that this is just an `all-about-the-twist' book - it's far denser than that. The intellectual probings about the relationships between man-machine, mind-body-soul, about the nature of love and how far it should go, give this an intellectual weight but one which never takes over from the understated emotions at play or the pure grip of the story.

This is a book which I finished in the small hours of the morning because I couldn't think about sleep until I'd finished it - and once I did, despite the satisfaction of a perfectly-tied-up story, I still wanted to re-read it immediately.

So this works beautifully on all levels: intellectual, emotional, literary. Read it - this is brilliant!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tense, disturbing and thought provoking - a great read..., 12 July 2013
By 
Ben (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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'The Machine' was my first James Smythe novel, and I was drawn to it as I have been following his excellent blog on The Guardian website where he has been re-reading Stephen King's novels in chronological order.

I thought 'The Machine' was a fantastic read. Extremely claustrophobic and atmospheric, it tells the story of Kim and her husband Vic, who has been physically and, more importantly, mentally damaged whilst serving with the Army during a war in Iran. To say any more would, in my view, spoil this well crafted story. What is so enjoyable about 'The Machine' is the skilful way Smythe reveals only tiny details of the narrative (and, more crucially, the back-story) chapter by chapter. It serves to heighten the tension and generally uneasiness that you feel as you read the book - and whilst I would not classify it as either "science fiction" or "horror" writing, it certainly has been inspirited by those styles and I was left constantly feeling something bad or uncomfortable was going to happen on the next page. To sustain such tension over the course of a whole book is very skilful indeed.

Overall, I thought 'The Machine' marks Smythe out as a very clever and imaginative writer, and I will now certainly be going back read his previous two novels.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Machine (Paperback)
Beth wants her marriage and husband back. Returned from war mentally damaged, she agrees to let the Machine heal him by purging his memory of the horrors of his experience in the war. Complicit in the treatment he now remains in a home for those left in a ‘vacant’ state following the treatment. Machines were scrapped following the controversy of the side effects after use. Beth has a plan and buys an Machine illegally to restore Vic her husband.

I like how Smythe has set this story on the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth because it brings a realism to the tale as I know both areas well.

This is a complex book written in simple layers using language that makes you think about its meaning. It questions the mind and memory, it brings a fear of the future and how in creating ‘healthy’ minds danger of what could be created instead.

At first I was eager to read and absorb the story, but Beth draws you into her world and then I wanted to explore the narrative more thoroughly.

The environment, society and personalities are depicted in such a plausible manner that I could almost feel the tiredness of such heat.
The school trip with reluctant teachers and pupils to “the Barrage Exhibition Centre, built in what used to be an art museum above a McDonald’s” is such a brilliant line. (There is a real Museum of Communism which is next door to a casino and above a McDonald’s in Prague that I have visited!)

I can completely identify with Smythe’s vision of the future and his irony.

The final chapter of the book is a surprise.

I would recommend this book as an excellent read, one which will leave questions in your mind after you put it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark, modern classic, 30 Oct 2013
By 
P M Buchan "UnKle BucK" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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The Machine is unquestionably the best book that I've read this year. Billed as a Frankenstein for the 21st century, I'd go further than that, because The Machine combines the best of Frankenstein, The Monkey's Paw and Pet Sematary in a near-future exploration of the cost of playing god with the human spirit.

I've been a fan of James Smythe's writing ever since I read his claustrophobic sci-fi novel The Explorer. He has a knack for capturing the human element in every situation - the more fantastical concepts in his fiction are grounded by believable, three-dimensional characters.

Set in a believable dystopian version of the UK where climate change has wreaked havoc on the environment, life goes on for the survivors, and a wife dreams of rebuilding her husband's fractured psyche after a traumatic event that leaves him a broken man. Science and religion collide spectacularly as the narrative progresses, but never heavy-handedly, and the real stars are the characters, whose frayed relationships are tested by loneliness and deprivation. There are hints of Camus and Orwell here, dressed in a story that's effortless to read and lingers long after the last page.

As with The Explorer, this is a dark novel, filled with foreboding and loneliness, but it's also a brilliant one, and anybody looking for a British author that's set to inherit the landscape previously dominated by writers like Stephen King and Richard Matheson should look no further than James Smythe and The Machine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished take on the Frankenstein fable, 15 Oct 2013
By 
Zip Domingo (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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I read Smythe's 'Testimony' last year and enjoyed it's innovative way of approaching the novel structure and so thought I'd give this a go. And I'm glad I did. Can't really say any more than the publisher blurb otherwise it would have too many spoilers, suffice to say this is a really good 'Frankenstein' story, and a very accomplished take on the fable it is too. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but brilliant, 15 Aug 2013
By 
Mr. Christopher Lancaster "clanca1234" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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James Smythe's first book, The Testimony, was a gripping faux-apocalyptic tale, telling the story of what happened after what may have been the voice of God spoke to everybody on the planet. After that I was greatly looking forward to The Machine - and it more than lived up to expectations.

On the Isle of Wight, beset like the rest of the world by the effects of global warming, Beth takes delivery of a Machine. That at least is certain.

Beth is a teacher whose husband was seriously injured during fighting. Something known simply as 'The Machine' wiped his bad memories, and replaced them with happier ones that were not actually his, but designed to improve his mental state.

The book is told from Beth's point of view, and tells the story of her struggle to repair her husband, and to get him back to being the person who she got to know and married. This sounds relatively simple (in sci-fi terms), but there's an air of unreality about the whole thing. Beth's position is unpleasant, and this makes for a rather depressing read - and rather a puzzling one, as one is left wondering whether all is really as it seems. I don't think it gives away much to say that the ending is not as I expected, although the outcome perhaps was.

A pretty depressing read, but not in a bad way - it reminded me in some ways of the bleakness of Kafka, combined with the other-worldliness of Arthur C Clarke. A great read, and one that will stay with you for some time afterwards.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing - a dark, disturbing tale, 12 Aug 2013
By 
D. Graham (Wakefield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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The Machine is the story of love and loss, and is a dark, disturbing tale of what can happen when memories are taken away. It's astonishingly atmospheric as the author creates a world which is all too close to our own.

A Frankenstein-esque parable of the effects of trying to rebuild a shattered life, Smythe draws you into the story, revealing glimpses of what's happened as you go, so you piece together the backstory as it builds towards the ending.

I absolutely loved this book - the writing and pacing is superb, and the characters will live on in your head for a good long while afterwards, whether you want them to or not. Definitely an author to watch out for in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Distorted reflections, 4 Aug 2013
By 
This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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This review originally appeared on [...]

The Machine was my first foray into the work of James Smythe, and as such I didn't know what to expect. What I discovered was one of the most interesting, compelling and affecting novels I've read in some time...

Beth lost her husband Vic to the Machine, a device designed to remove selective traumatic memories from his time in some unknown war. Instead it stripped him of everything that made him human, leaving him vacant, a shell. Now it's the only think that can bring him back.

It's not a happy tale, let's make that clear right now. There's a fog of despair that seeps into every aspect of the plot, from Beth's guilt and pain of loss, to the flood ruined, globally-warmed near-future in which she lives. There's very little happiness in the world. And that's like cat-nip to this reviewer. Smythe could have set the story at any time or place, and Beth's struggle would still have been touching, but the fact that the state of the world at large directly reflects Beth's own personal plight resonates strongly. Her quest to bring back her husband is the only slight glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak and friendless world.

The plot is insular, as well. It rarely strays from Beth's quiet life at home in her unloved flat or the school where she is overworked and under-appreciated. This too is mirrored by the setting, with Beth living on a version of the Isle of Wight that resembles a slum more than a holiday resort, cut off from the rest of the world by swelling water.

And that's what The Machine is about. Distorted reflections. Beth may get her husband back, but will it ever truly be him? Or just some copy, close but never quite right. Hollow. Broken.

It's a surprisingly brutal story as well. Not so much with violence - though it does feature towards the end - but with the harsh truths of life. Beth's role as Vic's carer is detailed with no holds barred. We experience everything it involves, from cleaning him after he has soiled himself, to how she views him, this vacant shell that she used to love. It's intimate and personal, and Smythe never holds back.

It's a credit to Smythe's writing that he can address these tough themes - from global-warming to street gangs, from care work and social responsibility to religion and the nature of the soul - in such a frank and emotional way, yet keep the book so readable. And it really is: I devoured the 328 page novel in a couple of days, compelled to discover more Beth and Vic, more about the world they inhabit, and, most of all, more about the Machine.

Ah yes, the Machine. I love it when authors create a character from inanimate objects or buildings, and Smythe did a great job with the Machine (never referred to as anything other than the Machine). It's a constant presence, huge and over-bearing in Beth's spare room, humming and whirring, radiating its presence, never allowing you to forget that it is there. The source of Beth's pain, but also her only comfort. There's something so ominous about it, something intangible, something... alive.

The Machine by James Smythe is a dark, dreamlike (or maybe that should be nightmarish) delight to read. There's something ineffable about it, yet so grounded in reality. Smythe is undoubtedly a talented author, and I look forward to appreciating his work again soon.

Highly Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very dark, very convincing, 25 Jun 2013
By 
Penny Waugh "A reader" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Machine (Hardcover)
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On the Isle of Wight, beset like the rest of the world by the effects of global warming, Beth takes delivery of a Machine. That at least is certain.
Beth is a teacher of increasingly unmotivated students, but she has much more than teaching on her mind. Her husband, Vic, a soldier injured in action and suffering nightmares and violent spells, was put on an experimental regime in which his bad memories were wiped and happier ones put in their place. Sadly he, and others involved in the scheme were left alive but without their minds.
The action of the story takes place over a summer, when Beth tries to undo the damage caused by the Machine. Her struggles are hard but eventually seem to be having a positive outcome, but is anything what it seems?
I liked the style of writing, it fitted this story very well, adding to the sometimes dreamlike (or nightmare) atmosphere. Questions arise: what is actually happening, is the Machine actually sentient?
Main characters are few: Beth herself carries the book, bewildered but utterly determined in her fight to save her husband; there is fellow-teacher religious Laura, apparently offering friendship but fighting her own corner, some near-feral teenagers, and of course, looming over everything and everyone, The Machine.
As others have said, the ending was heartbreaking.
I recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed The Explorer by this author. A very different book but with the same qualities of rising dread. I must look out The Testimony.
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