Tag Archives: Speculative Fiction

I Have Waited, and You Have Come – Martine McDonagh

I have waitedWith all the rain we’ve been subjected to over the last few months, you could be forgiven for thinking we are heading towards a version of Martine McDonagh’s vision of the future as portrayed in I Have Waited.. With rising sea levels and wild weather as the catalyst for our demise, Mcdonagh sets her near-future post-apocalyptic tale in the water-logged Cheshire countryside, a place I know well, having lived in that area for over 10 years some time back.

Rachel lives alone in a fortified mill in the parkland surrounding Dunham Massey.  The mill and its grounds were adapted by her ex-partner Jason to cope with the extreme weather and to keep out unwanted visitors.  Jason left Rachel before the story begins.  He is never present, but ever-present as the architect of this necessary prison.  The local communities have been decimated, the landscape ravaged and buildings abandoned.  Rachel is isolated geographically and mentally, but as she admits early on:

I can imagine nothing worse than living in a community.  Nothing and no one could persuade me to leave my island.

Her solitary lifestyle, with very little stimulation and almost no contact with others has led her to lead a life of apathy punctuated by long periods of sleep.  She has lost all self dignity, doesn’t wash, change her clothes or look after her home.  Her solitary confinement and lack of purpose is making her lose her mind.  But this book is narrated by Rachel, so it is only really when she comes into contact with others that you see she may well be losing it.

Rachel soon comes to the attention of a sinister stalker, who not only watches her from the edge of the parkland, but lures her to meetings in places wilder than her own mill (I know McDonagh took liberties with some of the geography for these parts of the story as she explains in the Q&A at the back, but I read that afterwards and therefore scoffed at the idea of making it from Dunham to Alderley Edge or Edale in 20 minutes or under – sorry that’s the map lover in me coming out!).  Despite the creepiness of her stalker, his appearance gives Rachel purpose and drive.  For the first time in a long time she has a task to focus her mind; to find out who this man is and where he lives.

Part environmental disaster story, part psychological thriller McDonagh has cleverly created a tale of isolation and survival while ramping up the menace caused by the weather, the unknown watcher and the sinister A Handmaid’s Tale type community trying to persuade Rachel to live with them.  Rachel is a survivor, but she has a vulnerability which makes her plausible.

As a young girl I liked to venture into the quietest darkest places at night, in search of fear.  But the dark never scared me; it would wrap itself around me like the arm of an old friend.  The more I sought to scare myself the more protected I felt.  Things are changing.

I rarely say this about books but I felt I Have Waited.. was perhaps 30 – 50 pages too short.  I understand the appeal of a pared down, sparse story, especially with this subject matter; the writing reflects the environment Rachel finds herself in and her isolation.  But I just felt there were a couple of unanswered questions that could have made the book feel slightly more complete, in my mind anyway.  Then again, that is what speculative fiction is about; creating ideas and letting the reader fill in some of the gaps.  

This book was originally published in 2006 and re-released in 2012.  Martine Mcdonagh publishes her second book After Phoenix this week.

Thanks to Annabel at Annabel’s House of Books for sending me this edition as part of her Blog Birthday last year.

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.