The Testimony – James Smythe

The title of this book makes you think of witnesses giving their evidence in a court, or a television documentary with endless talking heads.  It also made me think of the word “testament” as in “old and new” in the Bible and “last will and…” the document where we all have our final say.  It’s actually a very clever title once you get to know the story and the structure of the book.

The Testimony is made up of a series of statements by characters from all walks of life, faiths and different locations.  They relate their experiences during a period of near future when the human race went a bit crazy.  There are 26 witnesses of the global event known as The Broadcast.  A voice crackles through static on three occasions, delivering a message that changes with each Broadcast.  The event sends the human race into a flat spin, for reasons summed up very nicely by a retired woman from New York.

How to make the world divide into three camps over a single hour: make them pick between science, fantasy and religion. Give them a situation, a hypothetical situation, then give them three possible reasons for it happening – could be aliens, could be God, could be something we made ourselves and just haven’t worked out yet – and ask them to choose.  You choose the wrong one, the worst that happens is you choose again.  So we all took a stance…

A difference of opinion involving the entire population of the planet can’t end well!  We humans have a great capacity to self-destruct and the story in The Testimony is a classic example of how things can easily get out of control, almost to the point of no return.   With his choice of narrative style, James Smythe cleverly allows the scientific  and theological debate to take place between characters without feeling the author is forcing his opinions on the reader.  The message you come away with is that, humans need something to believe in, even if it’s the belief that there is nothing out there worth believing in.  The Broadcast causes ambiguity, and the characters show us that the human race doesn’t deal with ambiguity very well.  The ambiguity leads to confusion and confusion on a grand scale leads to chaos.

The 26 voices took some time to get used to.  Not because I thought there were too many or because of the lack of punctuation (which I don’t mind, in fact, I quite like), my main gripe for the first third of the book was that I felt the voices weren’t distinctive enough from each other.  A couple stood out to begin with, but the rest felt too similar.  Maybe the similarity was deliberate, to feel a bit like the static heard before The Broadcast, I don’t know.  I soon got over this though and settled into the voices.  The pedant in me did also question some of the continuity (some characters in Leeds heard the first Broadcast at 4.30am, whereas others in London heard it around lunchtime).  Characters often mentioned having meals and I wondered how they could still be finding food and water in the chaos.  The phone networks also seemed to work throughout, which I thought unlikely.

But these little annoyances didn’t really matter because the premise is interesting and thought-provoking.  I found myself thinking about various things such as faith and what makes people believe in God or the afterlife.  I also thought about how the way information is interpreted mixed with a bit of power can be devastating.  The structure of the book makes it easy to read as the statements are all short enough to read in bite-sized chunks.  All in all, I was really entertained by this book and look forward to James’ next book The Explorer, out in January.  

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