I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction so I was incredibly intrigued by the premise of new novel Speak which examines the ethics of artificial intelligence through the voices of both the machine and those who led to the creation of this life. The breadth of time and geography covered in these voices is breath-taking, spanning from a pilgrim girl venturing to a new life in America to the 2040 creator of illegally lifelike dolls. It does sound totally bizarre but as the story progresses it begins to make more sense, how the stories that our key narrator tells you encompass the life stories of all these diverse characters.
I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into this novel, always a complication when you have multiple narrators and Speak has more than most. At the start you are only getting snippets of stories and it is hard to see how it fits. I’m glad I persevered though, as the pieces start to roll together and form a more cohesive whole as the story progresses. Some of the stories called more to me than others – I think that the MARY3 conversations with a traumatised young girl will be a hit with young adult readers whereas Karl, Ruth and Steven may appeal to older readers as they see reflections of their worst selves. The end left me somewhat unsatisfied, wanting to know more about each of the narrative voices – and in a very clever way I think that was a perfect ending to the story.
I believe this novel has wide appeal – while the basis of it is science fiction, there’s enough human interest to capture someone not familiar with the genre. It would be a story that I would recommend to both high school students interested in a step on from the dystopian world of The Hunger Games and my science-fiction loving father. I’m interested to seek out Hall’s other novel The Carriage House and see how she brings the voice of Austen’s Anne Elliot to life in the 21st century.
If you’re a fan of this novel you might also enjoy:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Another dystopian story that took me a while to get into, but I’m glad I persevered. The Road is considered a modern classic and follows the story of a man and a boy travelling the road to get to the ocean after a post-apocalyptic event. The story is mostly told in the third person, an interesting narrative choice. The boy, in particular, is so well-written that you can’t help but sympathise with his experience and his challenges in understanding the world that he finds himself in.
Climate of Change by Piers Anthony
In the same vein as Speak, Climate of Change endeavours to tell the same story through multiple stories – although in this case Anthony uses the same characters in timelines from the dawn of time to the not-so-distant future. The subject matter at times can be very challenging; his ability to examine the why and how – not just the what and who – of society, the environment in which we function and the dangers of a future that we will not like if we continue on our current path.