The key to good science fiction is that it doesn’t just have to be set in the future with some cool tech and characters questioning the status quo, it also has to be believable. Jon A. Davidson’s debut novel, System: With His Face in the Sun, the first in a planned trilogy, does exactly this: taking our current tech and knowledge and pushing it further into the future in a logical way that makes everything totally believable and seemingly inevitable.
We are at a point in the future where the world has changed. The System now controls everything; think of it as a sentient Internet that tells you what to do. Almost everyone on the planet is connected to the System through their CommCuffs, and the System lets you know how to get anywhere, what you should be doing to make yourself feel better, and whether your marriage is worth it. The seas rose, and things went to hell, so the System was developed to fix things, which it did, shrinking the population through some secret, not so liked means, and making the world a much better place to live. Now everyone lives their lives guided by the System, and, while it’s not illegal to disagree with what the System tells you, you might disappear from society if you disagree too much, because the System is never wrong.
Wallace Blair thinks everything is going just right in his life. He has a wonderful wife he loves very much, a job he really enjoys that makes him be creative and somewhat individual, a unique facet in the world of the System, as well as two kids and a lovely home. And then one day the System lets him know through his CommCuff that he and his wife are in Transition, meaning their marriage is about to end. Wallace doesn’t accept this, knowing he’s perfectly happy in his marriage, but the System is never wrong. His wife fully believes their marriage is over once she gets the same announcement on her CommCuff, and this begins a long and interesting journey for Wallace. He confronts Arthur, his father, who is a highly-ranked worker in the System, about why this is all happening to him.
The trail leads him to discovering his grandfather, Edward, apparently isn’t in a care home with dementia, but living hidden away in an abandoned town in Spain, completely disconnected from the System. When Wallace eventually finds his grandfather, he learns a lot about why the man chose to keep his life secret, and upon returning to London, everything changes for him, as the System comes for him.
For a self-published work, System is a surprisingly well-edited and copy-edited work of fiction. While there is a couple of typos and the occasional grammatical error, the flow and voice feel like something published by a big publishing house. The science is interesting and believable, and the book never really slows down, as the reader is hooked in wondering where it will go next. The reasoning and reveal at the heart of System is just as entertaining and enthralling as any other work of good dystopian science fiction. It can best be described as The Matrix meets 1984.
First published in the San Francisco Book Review.
Originally written on June 20, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.
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