Title – The Testimony
Author – James Smythe
Published – 2012
Genre – Science fiction (see below)
My first issue in writing this review has been trying to decide what genre to describe the book. I know that pigeonholing something with a specific genre isn’t important, but it does provide a clue about what to expect from a book. So thriller – maybe, apocalyptic – sort of, sci-fi – ish, speculative fiction – perhaps. I can say definitively, though, that this isn’t crime fiction.
The book is set in our world, as we would recognise it, but slightly in the future – the clue is that Obama was the American president a couple of terms prior to the events taking place. The story is told, and I’m quoting the blurb here as ‘synchronous events told by multiple voices’. Everyone (with few exceptions) experiences the same unexplained phenomenon. This is the start of ‘The Broadcast’, initially a noise like static which has no obvious source. The unintelligible noise is followed by a voice – but who is it speaking? The premise is that different people, cultures, religions react differently to this voice and have opposing views about its origin. The dividing question is whether or not this is the voice of God. Which makes this sound perhaps a more worthy and dull story than it is.
As the accounts follow from, initially, 26 characters who are a mix of of ages, sexes, cultures, beliefs, locations and occupations there are also a range of reactions to and experiences of the aftermath of the noise and voice. From a British MP to a nun in Rome, from an American schoolgirl to Indian doctor. Whilst individuals reach their own conclusions about the meaning, if any, of the voice, a terrorist promises to punish ‘false believers’. Unrest brought about by the voice is compounded by bombs exploding and an unexplained illness.The combination of events leads to a situation akin to something apocalyptic.
I have to confess that the different voices that all appear in quick succession in the opening and their conversational style took me a while to grasp. The disadvantage of involving such a lot of disparate points of view is that it takes a while to move the plot forward. As the book progresses however, the number of contributors falls until there is a smaller number of core characters left at the end.
I don’t read a huge amount of sci fi (that’s what I’m calling this now) but it seems to be the best genre for exploring issues and this touches on questions about what is religion and what happens if people are forced to confront their beliefs in a more tangible, physical way.
The story is all about the individuals’ experience and their perception of events which provides insight into the events but is still a very personal perspective. Perhaps, though, this isn’t in the book’s favour because this limits the reader’s understanding of the global scale of what is taking place.
All the characters have own way of dealing with the events – religion, science, sceptic, believer and they all seem credible but perhaps in having so many people the book loses something at the heart of it. This was an enjoyable read that raised some interesting scenarios.
I bought this book. You can see other points of view at Reader Dad and For Winter’s Nights.