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Book Review

Book Cover

No Harm Can Come to A Good Man (Hardback)


Author: James Smythe
Publisher: The Borough Press
RRP: £16.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 754190 4
Publication Date: 22 May 2014

The Internet and its divergent technologies are becoming ubiquitous in our lives. I see it everywhere, people starting to live digital lives, tweeting, spending more time on Facebook than they do with real people. All of this information accumulates and data trolling allows a surprisingly large amount of information to be collected on single individuals. But what happens when someone creates an algorithm which collects all that data to predict what you will do next...

No Harm Can Come to a Good Man (2014. 374 pages) is the new novel by James Smythe, whose, unfinished, Anomaly Quartet series has been reviewed on this site. It’s a good series and all I can say to Smyth is get on with it. I am, if nothing, an impatient reader when I find a good set of books.

This is not part of the series, nor is it set in the same universe. Here Smyth takes us to the America’s and Laurence, a prospective Presidential candidate. In fact if he just keeps his head down, and does the leg work required, the Presidency is in the bag.

I am an old fashioned kind of science friction reader who still holds that the genre should be about changes in technology and the effects these have on people. This then is the premise of the book. ClearVista seems like a great idea, a computer algorithm which collects all those bits of information from old pictures posted decades ago to drunken rants on social networks and uses this to predict your future behaviour. Much of what it does is relatively benign, like providing better satnavs, which everybody appears to use.

The problem with providing the human race with such technologies is that they forget to think for themselves. We already have software which will eliminate you from that job you want not only on your application, but also by your online profiles. So, what happens when a company guarantees that they can, for a fee, tell you your chances of getting that job, that girl or when to change your car?

Furthermore what happens when the service is used by the majority of people so that it is invested with the veneer of truth? This is great if you ask it something small, or fairly personal, but what if your whole life and your own view of yourself is reflected back in a way which is so devastating that you do not recognise it as you.

In the run up to the election, Laurence asks for a prediction, textual and video readouts to show the punters, who believe in ClearVista, just what sort of person they are picking for President. What he gets is something disturbing and destructive.

Smythe charts Laurence’s descent, always extolling that his actions are based on the fact that he wants nothing more than to protect his family, because, at heart, he is a good man. But the tide of computer evidence produces an existential crisis which tears his family apart.

Reading A Good Man really is like watching a slow car crash, you know that what you’re going to see is going to be ugly, but Smythe’s writing compels you to carry on to see the story to its inevitable end. Here he has produced a powerful and moving piece of work.


Charles Packer

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