Review of ‘I Still Dream’ by James Smythe


Gorgeous meditation on the ephemeral, humanising nature of memory, filtered through an insightful and original take on AI. It’s 1997 and teenage genius Laura Bow deals with the mysterious disappearance of her father ten years earlier by creating a nascent intelligence called Organon, named after a line in a Kate Bush song. Music, as a corollary for the visceral power of memory and the definition of identity, runs through the whole novel, and boldly assumes familiarity with Bush’s The Hounds of Love to deliver a series of emotional sucker punches that are all the better when you already know the words. It’s a bit like One Day, or Dreams Before the Start of Time, in the way it looks at Laura’s life at regular intervals from the late 90s into the future, and uses themes of dementia and mental illness with a beguilingly light touch to examine how our humanity is as much defined by what isn’t there as what is. There are jokes at the expense of entitled Silicon Valley child-men assuring everyone that they’re not building Skynet even as they rip Laura’s creation off to make their own smug, bullying AI even more effective. The outcome is brilliantly imagined, and when Laura succumbs to dementia in later life, Organon’s solution is pure SF of the most emotional kind.

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