- The Actuality
Author: Paul Braddon
Sandstone Press Ltd
- ISBN: 9781913207175
- Published: February 2021
- Pages: 304
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 25/02/2021
- Language: English
I sometimes like to think about a singular change to the world and how it would affect the future. It says a lot about me that in most cases my thoughts end up at dystopia. Humans are always going to end at some point, I was just hoping that it would be a few years after I had gone. I am not the only person with this bleaker mindset as the unstinting number of Dystopian Science Fiction hitting the shelves will attest. Paul Braddon’s The Actuality is set in a breaking world and it throws in Androids and Artificial Intelligence. That is not a thought that takes long to turn dystopian; any intelligence will soon understand that Humans are the problem.
Evie has led a sheltered life on the top floor of a London Skyscraper. Her husband suggests that she is blessed as on the ground level the city is drowning, not only under the rising Thames, but with a rise in crime and poverty. Evie is not allowed out of the flat’s grounds as she is different. Eveline is meant to be dead, but here Evie is. She is a 41-year-old android trapped in a body designed to look like her husband’s late partner. To make matters worse, advanced androids are illegal and it seems that people have finally realised the Evie exists.
Picking up Actuality is not going to lighten many reader’s mood, but it will trigger thought processes and send shivers down the spine. There are a lot of parallels between the book and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as it takes a creature designed by humans on a series of encounters and like Frankenstein’s Monster, the fate of Evie does not always end well.
The novel is split into sections and they act as a way of moving time forwards and placing Evie in a different scenario. The opening is the most closeted and, in many ways, bleakest. Here we are introduced to Evie and her imprisonment. As an android it may have been hard to sympathise with her, but Braddon does not paint her as a cold creature. Instead, due to her programming she has evolved over the years to have emotions. She understands her predicament but is still programmed to love the man who has entrapped her.
Throughout the book there is a sense of voyeurism and misogyny in how some of the characters act towards Evie. Her very existence is owed to the departure of another, but does her husband treat Evie like the women she replaced or merely something to use when required? The idea that Androids are just objects leaves the reader feeling ill at ease. Evie can understand what she is feeling is not always right but still offers all her being to people who do not care for her.
As well as offering an emotional journey, Actuality also has thrills and psychological horror. For large parts of the book, Evie is on the run and is pursued by shadowy people, sometime in her imagination and other times real. The people that she meets along the way almost all have some ulterior motive, and this constant sense of betrayal weighs heavily on Evie, yet never diminishes her ability to love.
The final ingredient to Actuality is the world building. There is enough in the character of Evie and the situations she finds herself in to make a sound Science Fiction Thriller, but Braddon has done more than this by creating a bleak, yet believable, future. What, is in many ways, background scenery acts as a wonderful foundation for Evie’s story. By knowing the world around her, the reader understands better her plight. With a fully designed world already in creation, Braddon could easily set other stories within it. Evie may be the centre of this tale, but it feels that there are so many more to tell behind each door.
Written on 25th February 2021 by Sam Tyler .