If then, by Matthew De Abaitua

If then Book Cover If then
Matthew De Abaitua
Science fiction
Angry robot
Sep 1 2015

In the near future, after the collapse of society as we know it, one English town survives under the protection of the computer algorithms of the Process, which governs every aspect of their lives. The Process gives and it takes. It allocates jobs and resources, giving each person exactly what it has calculated they will need. But it also decides who stays under its protection, and who must be banished to the wilderness beyond. Human life has become totally algorithm-driven, and James, the town bailiff, is charged with making sure the Process’s suggestions are implemented.

But now the Process is making soldiers. It is readying for war — the First World War. Mysteriously, the Process is slowly recreating events that took place over a hundred years ago, and is recruiting the town’s men to fight in an artificial reconstruction of the Dardanelles campaign. James, too, must go fight. And he will discover that the Process has become vastly more sophisticated and terrifying than anyone had believed possible.

Whatever I expected when I began to read If then - it certainly wasn't what I found there.  Now, after the fact, I can't really say what I did expect, of course, but suffice it to say - this is not your ordinary steampunky or post-apocalyptic adventure.

I wasn't prepared for penetrating melancholy.  Sentences that could only be described as poetic.

So - the prose, at least, was a pleasant surprise. So was the first part of the book.  As I followed the lives of the married couple James and Ruth, and the mysterious Hector,  I kept getting more and more intrigued.  Life in an English town after what was known as "The seizure" appears simple and old-timey on the surface, but then we come into the institute to engage in conversation with a scientist who appears to voluntarily engage in leisurely brain surgery.    Somehow everyone is acting in accordance with the Process, but what is the Process?

There's a lot of good stuff,  here. I would chow down on all of it with joyous abandon!

Except... except that the vast middle part of the novel loses its charm in lengthy, meandering events.  To me, it appeared aimless, and I struggled to find any thread to follow through the fog.   I simply lost the will to even keep reading, which is a clear sign of a poor book/reader match.

So, well, no.  I did not really enjoy this read.  It happens.  Maybe if I had special knowledge of the relevant Great War event, I wouldn't have fallen off and out of rhythm so badly.  I don't know!  By the end, as the book wraps up,  I know this book should be pushing all of my buttons in theory.

It just didn't.

So.  Do you want to read it?  It is undeniably a different take on post-something-or-other,  and doesn't resemble anything else I've read in a while.   There's also some very pretty prose involved.  These could easily be sufficient reasons to give the book a go - it's just not going to be me handing it to you.


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