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Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

Review: The Actuality by Paul Braddon

‘Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her ‘husband’ Matthew keeps her safe but hidden. When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets where more than one predator is on the hunt.’

The Actuality follows Evie, who is a technological creation who has been created in the image of her owner’s (‘husband’s’) wife, and, not being of biological matter, is eternally in her early twenties, while those around her continue to age. For the duration of her life, she has been kept in her husband’s home and not permitted to experience the outside world, primarily because, as it turns out, her existence is no longer legal. The creation of beings with artificial intelligence has been outlawed, following violent uprisings, and Evie is one of the few remaining that haven’t been destroyed or kept in captivity as a supposed ‘warning’ about the past. Evie herself is oblivious to much beyond the fact that she is fully aware she is not human in the biological sense, and initially seems content and determined to fulfil her role as a wife, until the outside world enters their home and leaves her no with no choice but to flee to survive.

Throughout the novel, there is a lot of debate over whether Evie can be considered human or not, with there being no real middle ground as regards the opinions of biological human beings, most of whom insist that Evie and her kind cannot possibly be human insofar as having rights, thoughts and feelings of their own. Even Evie’s husband is heard to justify his having purchased Evie and kept her essentially as a prisoner for decades by claiming that she’s only a machine. That his interaction with Evie includes having sex with her only makes the situation she is in all the more uncomfortable, and is one among many things that Daniels, one of the few in the narrative who seems to believe Evie should be treated as any other human, objects to. In her home life, she is treated like an object and a servant, while being expected to be so flawlessly human as to perfectly imitate the person whose image she was created in. That her husband is so willing to use something he believes is his possession and without feeling says far too much about the manner in which he would have treated his wife and how women are all too often viewed in today’s society. Is Evie a replacement for another woman he would have commanded and possessed and used? In this, would his ‘real’ wife have been considered any more human than Evie?

On more than one occasion, Evie is forced to defend herself if she is to survive, these incidents often brushed over in a clinical manner, or painted in so vague a way as to only make it apparent that she has behaved as she has because she must. The narrative itself is written from her point of view, and, initially, any violence on her part is not accompanied by any real sense of anger or rage, creating a distance between Evie and the act, and subsequently Evie and the reader, allowing us to believe that she has acted as she should. Without going into too much specific detail and sharing spoilers, it is this that makes it easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Being inside Evie’s head and hearing all of the arguments against her kind means that siding with her and wanting to believe that she is  ‘different’ and as human as it feels she ‘deserves’ to be is a natural reaction. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes far less simple than a matter of Evie’s humanity, especially when her actions cannot be attributed entirely to her being at risk. Is it wrong to expect anything that we create in our own image, yet expect to be controlled and subservient, to not display the darker features of human nature? Why should we be surprised that anything or anyone we treat poorly would want to fight back over the injustice of it all? Does her understanding that who she is is under threat not prove that she is human?

There’s a lot I’d like to talk about from the last third of the novel, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! The Actuality is brilliantly written and well-paced read that quickly grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Not only is it a fantastic look at what makes us human, but it’s a dark glimpse at what we stand to become and the dangers that exist in our society, particularly if you are a woman. It’s out in February, 2021! Thank you, Sandstone Press, for sending me an ARC!