Book Review: THE MACHINE by James Smythe

My first experience reading James Smythe was discovering his novel, The Explorer, a book which became my Top 3 read of 2012. It hooked me from the first sentence and gave me a story that was never boring, creating strong empathy for the main character’s plight in a fast-paced adventure through time and space, literally. Science Fiction that terrifies, pulls on the heart and makes me think may be my favorite blend of genre fiction, and that story fit that niche superbly. In fact, I don’t know anyone else who does all three as well as Smythe.

The Machine has a similar feel to The Explorer, in that it is a Science Fiction that blends terror with the effects of cutting-edge technology on an individual level. The Machine is set in a future where society is struggling in the aftermath of a world war and global warming. The main character, Beth, is a high school teacher who struggles to keep her students’ focus because everyone is so hot, they’re perpetually tired and cranky. This setting is a nice backdrop to the feel of Beth’s misery from losing her husband to the side effects of a technology meant to cure him of his PTSD.

The book begins rather slowly with the delivery of The Machine to her home. The Machine is an ominous device, so there is an obvious intent at displaying it for the reader like a sedated King Kong delivered to her living room, except more subtlety because we don’t know yet what kind of trouble it can cause. Discovering that is the strength to the story’s tug toward its climax. Smythe’s prose effectively sets the tension inherent in this device, but requires more patience than the thriller, The Explorer. Haunting may be a better word for The Machine, effectively mimicking both the premise and feel of Frankenstein, seen through a modern-day lens.

We learn that The Machine has been banned because of drastic side effects of turning some users into mental vegetables, or worse. Beth is determined to get her husband back, so after years of saving, she has bought her own via a secretive website. The character empathy I loved in The Explorer shows itself in Beth’s self-sacrificing to restore her marriage. Smythe deftly builds the tension toward a climax where Beth has to choose between memories or love, where happiness seems impossible with either choice.

A friend that Beth meets warns her that it’s God’s duty to restore the soul and by inserting memories like computer data into her husband’s shell, Beth is inviting evil consequences, (similar theme to Frankenstein). Smythe uses this to evoke fear, but as the book wraps up, I wasn’t sure if some threads were left untied regarding the question of the soul within memory, and if there were consequences to her tampering “in God’s business.”

Smythe is very intelligent, and like The Explorer, crafts his ending in a way that may need a second read to fully grasp. Regardless, the ending is an emotional twist that will leave me thinking about this book for a while to come. If you’ve read this, I’d love to chat about your interpretation of the ending.

Like a heart-attack in slow motion, The Machine is a terrifying experience into the unknown reaches of human physiology and our need for love.


Purchasing options for The Machine: Amazon UK, Amazon US (used Hardback only), and Powell’s Books. I bought mine after reading his blog post where he calls The Machine his best book.

Other titles by James Smythe:



Timothy C. Ward
Executive Producer

Former host of the AudioTim podcast, Timothy C. Ward took over Adventures in SciFi Publishing in June. His first publication, Cornhusker: Demon Gene (A Short Story), is available on Kindle for $.99. His novel in progress, Kaimerus, is described as “Firefly crashes on Avatar and wakes up 28 Days Later.”

Subscribe to Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast on: iTunes | Stitcher Radio (Android users) | RSS | Website RSS

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former Executive Producer for AISFP. His debut novel, Scavenger: Evolution, blends Dune with Alien in a thriller where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America's buried fortresses. Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.

Connect with Adventures in SciFi Publishing

Subscribe to podcast on: iTunes | Stitcher Radio (Android users) | Podcast RSS | Website RSS

Speak Your Mind


WordPress Anti-Spam by WP-SpamShield