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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars


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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 September 2013
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.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 21 May 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Testimony is a dystopian story which starts when everyone or nearly everyone hears a noise which sounds very like the static that a TV or radio would emit. It seems that the noise is heard inside the head rather than externally and there are various theories as to where it is coming from and what is causing it, but nothing is conclusive.

The story is told from the point of view of various people in different parts of the world. Each section is dedicated to a different person and their observations which range from one line to several pages. Some of these people keep appearing so that we understand their thoughts and what is happening to them and their families and friends as the story develops. Others appear only once or twice. Of particular note is Andrew Brubacker, the advisor to POTUS (President of the United States), as the Government in America struggles to make sense of the phenomena. Rather predictably, terrorism is high on the list of suspects.

This is a reasonably original take on an apocalyptic type scenario and the presentation works rather well, once the story starts to develop. Of particular interest is the way that when faced with circumstances that cannot be explained most people react in a superstitious way and consider that if something cannot be rationalised then there must be a religious dimension at the root of it. I will not give any spoilers by revealing how the downward spiral develops, but suffice to say that I did not find it very predictable and it was not one of those stories where the reader is constantly jumping ahead of the author.

To summarise, I found this an interesting story though not one which was particularly tense at any stage. I think this was because there were a number of key participants narrating so that one did not identify very strongly with the trials and tribulations faced by any particular individual. The author wraps it all up quite competently at the end, although I did not think that this was the strongest part of the story.
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on 15 August 2017
I've read quite a number of so-called apocolyptic novels all about the world ending and most of them begin at the end as it were. This one however does not. It actually begins at the beginning which is nice. It has a good eye for detail and tells the stories of a number of characters some of them cynical and some of them not. It explores a number of reactions from a number of age groups. However it has one or two flaws. For one thing it's odd that none of the characters think about this. There are a few people that didn't hear the 'broadcast'. One of them is a child of a religious commune yet noboy thought that the reason the boy didn't hear the broadcast might be that he was so holy that god didnt need to speak with him in which case the reacthion would have been quite different. The ending is a bit strange too though interesting. It's best to read rather than listen to though because the accents on the audio copy are strange to say the least. Happy reading.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't want to be unfair to this book but I am going to be honest. It starts with an interesting idea: strange messages beamed into peoples' heads across the world, related from the perspectives of twenty six people in different countries. It then tracks various responses, of ordinary people, religious people, leaders and terrorists. For a while I was interested in the reactions and the individual stories. For a while also the unfolding consequences, especially the religious and military reactions, were credible and thought provoking.

Then it goes wrong in all sorts of ways.

Instead of properly developing the human situations, the story disintegrates into an orgy of a billion spontaneous unexplained deaths. You can build a book out of one impossible or bizarre premise but it doesn't work to have two. Eventually the whole story peters out. We have a total collapse of society and then suddenly everything is ok again. I can accept a mystery that is left ambiguous but here there is neither explanation nor any real ambiguity. The second half of the book is a serious contender for the worst novel writing I have encountered. The only reason I finished it is that I did not believe it could continue to deteriorate right to the end. But it did.
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It starts so well... All around the world people hear the sound of static, and from this static a voice says "My children..." Whose voice is it? Where is it coming from? The sound cannot be recorded, and its source cannot be identified, so what is happening? Is it the voice of God? And then there is another message: "Do not be afraid", then later, another, and the world rapidly descends into chaos as lawlessness sweeps the streets, strange diseases affect countless individuals and so on.

The story is told as a series of testimonies - hence the title - where those who heard the messages (and a few who did not) describe the experience, what happened to them, and so on, and although it gives a certain intimacy to the text it does make the book rather repetitive, especially as all of the "voices" of those who testify sound the same - there is little to distinguish one person from another.

It's a fairly short, moderately exciting read, but is ultimately rather frustrating as so much is left unanswered in the end, plus the story just seems to suddenly stop, as though the author wasn't quite sure what to do next, where to take the tale and so on.

If you'd like to read a short, apocalyptic novel and are prepared to have most of your questions left unanswered, this is the book for you. I was just hoping for a little more resolution.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set some time in the not too distant future, this book tells us about what transpired after `The Broadcast'. This is on a day when every body hears the same words in English `My Children' as if they were hearing it in their heads. Then everyone goes seemingly religious mental as it is more or less universally accepted as being the voice of God. Some people just up and kill themselves to be with `Him' and others decided to let the whole world go to hell in a hand cart because if he is real then everything has changed.

It is told by monologues from people all over the world; we have a political speech writer in Tel Aviv, a sales consultant and an MP in London and the aid to the US President among many others. They are all speaking as if being interviewed about the past events. The narrative is taken forward by differing characters as they tell more of their story. So we have the individual plights of the characters personalising the global catastrophe to bring detail to the events unfolding. The number of characters may be off putting for some but it adds depth to the book and tries to bring as many perspectives and reactions as possible to what is really a question of faith. There is also the question about, if it is God, which religion was right? As the World waits for the answer God has a few more things to reveal. Then the terrorists kick off and things get real nasty real quick.

I did enjoy this book and got through it fairly rapidly. It is written in an engaging and fluid style. More character development would have been nice, but the format does not leave very much wriggle room for that, so I was fine with that. My problem is the whole concept of God, as having been brought up a Catholic I am pretty much in the `can't be bothered' end of the spectrum and as the world has had believers around for two millennia or more, what has really changed? OK God speaks English not one of the old biblical languages like Aramaic or Latin. He does sod all to help mankind, which pretty much sums up his CV (resume) for the last two thousand years or so. So why all the fuss?

So not a problem with the book, but a problem with the reaction of the players. James Smythe does ask the question about whether it is God or not and he does have doubters, so he has tried to nail as many angles as possible. All in all a very good read and it got me thinking and friends, who I have told about it, now want to read it too. So for a first effort this is actually quite accomplished and I look forward to his next book which is due out next year -`The Explorer'.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Remember the TV series "Lost"? Well this book has a lot in common with it- bear with me on this analogy. It has a very strong opening, and an interesting and original premise which feels like it hasn't been done before. It has an innovative approach to story-telling (in this case making excellent use of the diary/monologue format) which manages to juggle a large number of distinct and interesting characters. The only problem is, it tails off to disappointment and a feeling of "is that it?" at the end.

The way in which the apocalyptic world events unfold as intriguing and very believable. There's some interesting food for thought and the whole "what would happen if...?" question is really well considered. It's a story on an epic scale, which seems to be screaming out to be turned into a movie. (If it were a movie, I think it would end up very similar to the film version of PD James' "Children Of Men"- a film which I rate very highly, so I mean that as a compliment).

The study of human nature in crisis is gripping stuff, and I was very close to giving this a five-star review. Then unfortunately (NO SPOILERS) it tailed off at the end, with some story threads just being forgotten, and others being wrapped up in conveniently unlikely ways. It's a slightly unsatisfying end to an other excellent book.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Testimony is the account of 26 people from around the world giving their first-hand accounts of the day 'the noise' happened. It started as static and at first people discounted it as their speakers malfunctioning or some other easy explanation. But as it becomes clearer that this static was heard at a global level, more and more interest is paid to it. Governments have no explanation, Religious claims are made and ultimately, it comes down to what an individual believes in for their rationalisation.

The narrative flits endlessly between characters who all have some sort of insight into the phenomena, this is slightly distracting and the sheer number of the accounts will have you mixing details between characters for the first few switches. But it does become clearer as each narrative has a distinct perspective and I genuinely looked forward to the resumption of their account (you can't help but pick favourites). What sets the testimony apart from most apocalyptic novels is the absence of certainty, we literally have no idea what is happening and this adds and electric sense of tension throughout, only let down by the less interesting accounts.

All in all, a great read about the unknown and how people rationalise their fears about it. Recommended.
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on 4 April 2014
"How to make the world divide into three camps over a single hour: make them pick between science, fantasy and religion. Give them a situation, a hypothetical situation, then give them three possible reasons for it happening – could be aliens, could be God, could be something we made ourselves and just haven't worked out yet – and ask them to choose."

Frightening premise told World War Z style that pans the globe with eye witness accounts from those in power, such as the White House Chief of Staff, right down to the little people.

Continuously makes you ask yourself the question...What would I believe? Aliens? God? or science we don't understand yet and more to the point what would I do!

I actually had to put the book down at one point and consider what would I think?

Then I had to ring a friend with the scenario and ask them what they would think it was and was shocked to find out their conclusion was completely different to my idea (…you think you know someone)

It is that kind of book…

The professional gamer living in Shanghai made me smile - the world maybe ending but we WILL finish this instance!

Bold speculative fiction - looking forward to reading more of this author
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 May 2012
Imagine if you, and everyone around you, suddenly hears a voice. It comes out of a static noise that will make you, and everyone else, freeze in your steps. `My children', the indefinable voice says, `Do not be afraid'. What would you do? How would you behave? What would you believe?

This is the premise of the new thriller The Testimony by James Smythe. Twenty-six people present their points of view on this mysterious announcement in a narrative that reads like a series of journal or news posts, blog posts even. There is no wise all-seeing persona, instead we spend the entire novel moving between our twenty-six spectators - or listeners. The voice or `The Broadcast' was heard across the planet and so we have witnesses from America, Britain and France to South Africa, India and New Zealand. They range from high government officials, unemployed and doctors to the retired, criminal and scientists. All have their own idea of what this voice means - some of them turn to God, others think of aliens while more prepare to face a perceived human threat with firm action. There are a few, however, who hear nothing at all. What does that mean?

The Testimony raises questions that many citizens in a modern world aren't equipped to answer - for many God is forced back into their lives leading to riots outside the churches, confusion among the main faiths and the birth of new religions. But for others, including a nun, who see nothing of God in the Broadcast, there must be a secular reason and, for many, the response is violent. Terrorists are reborn and those on the extreme of politics and religion use the Broadcast to tear the world apart.

But what if there is no explanation? Can people live with that? And when the novel takes an apocalyptic turn, what if there is no reason for whether one dies or survives, for the loss and the fear?

Starting The Testimony, I had some concerns about its structure. I wondered how I, who can barely remember the names of my closest relatives, would cope with the multitude of voices and stories but I needn't have worried. The voices are distinct, each with their own character and all with their own stories to tell, many of which are moving and painfully honest. Some people play more of a part than others but I remembered them all.

James Smythe has achieved quite a feat here. He has given us a clever thriller with a disturbing psychological edge. God, alien or terrorist - these are major concepts all tossed into the crowd and scrambled over as a voice, viewed as positive by some and negative by others, forces its way into our lives from nowhere. It's a mix of thriller, scifi and horror and it will intrigue, sadden and horrify in equal measure. It will also make you think and that gives The Testimony that edge that will make this one of the thrillers of the year. This review is from a review copy.
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