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When the Sparrow Falls

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Life in the Caspian Republic has taught Agent Nikolai South two rules. Trust No One. And work just hard enough not to make enemies. Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path - your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed - and is discovered as a "machine" - he's g Life in the Caspian Republic has taught Agent Nikolai South two rules. Trust No One. And work just hard enough not to make enemies. Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path - your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed - and is discovered as a "machine" - he's given a new mission: chaperone the widow, Lily, who has arrived to claim her husband's remains. But when South sees that she, the first "machine" ever allowed into the country, bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, he's thrown into a maelstrom of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy that may bring down the Republic for good. WHEN THE SPARROW FALLS illuminates authoritarianism, complicity, and identity in the digital age, in a page turning, darkly-funny, frightening and touching story that recalls Philip K. Dick, John le Carré and Kurt Vonnegut in equal measure.


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Life in the Caspian Republic has taught Agent Nikolai South two rules. Trust No One. And work just hard enough not to make enemies. Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path - your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed - and is discovered as a "machine" - he's g Life in the Caspian Republic has taught Agent Nikolai South two rules. Trust No One. And work just hard enough not to make enemies. Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path - your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed - and is discovered as a "machine" - he's given a new mission: chaperone the widow, Lily, who has arrived to claim her husband's remains. But when South sees that she, the first "machine" ever allowed into the country, bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, he's thrown into a maelstrom of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy that may bring down the Republic for good. WHEN THE SPARROW FALLS illuminates authoritarianism, complicity, and identity in the digital age, in a page turning, darkly-funny, frightening and touching story that recalls Philip K. Dick, John le Carré and Kurt Vonnegut in equal measure.

30 review for When the Sparrow Falls

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 4.1* of five I RECEIVED MY DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: First, read this: Nominally, the currency of the Caspian Republic is the moneta, but in truth the coin of the nation was fear. Whoever could inspire fear was rich, whoever lived in fear was poor. –and– For a writer's work to be circulated amongst the upper levels of the party was usually the precursor to them coming down with a rather permanent case of writer's block, but not this time. {He} was offere Real Rating: 4.1* of five I RECEIVED MY DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: First, read this: Nominally, the currency of the Caspian Republic is the moneta, but in truth the coin of the nation was fear. Whoever could inspire fear was rich, whoever lived in fear was poor. –and– For a writer's work to be circulated amongst the upper levels of the party was usually the precursor to them coming down with a rather permanent case of writer's block, but not this time. {He} was offered a position in The Truth (then viewed as a rather out of touch and elitist organ), and asked to bring his rough, authentic, working-class voice to the paper's readers, who were left with nothing to do but wonder what they had done to deserve it. You know already where you are. You'd be stupid or frankly insentient if you didn't recognize the various totalitarian régimes of our present century. Here's what you don't know in the first few chapters of this extraordinarily exciting tale: You will not be leaving the Caspian Republic until events have reached their logical limits. Until then, settle in and surrender your schedule and your other plans. I would love to spoil the bejabbers out of this read. It is almost painful not to. I want someone to kvell over the ending with; I want someone to be full of the rat's-nest of emotions with me...and not one soul I know can be! I understand the feelings expressed at the ending of the book so very much better now. When you send your request in to the bookery of your choice for this story, I think you should know that the author's purpose in writing it was to rob you of any sense of actual control over your life and the world around you. But it will, in fact, be okay. I can't tell you why but let's just say Epicurus's famous formulation of the Problem of Evil: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” Well-trodden tracks lead through this thicket. The response from the god-addled is, "She has Her Reasons, which Reason knoweth not," or something similar to that. In fact the story contains that very argument, put in the mouth of a deeply important figure. (It is only resolvable for the goddists by their huffy assumption that you, o skeptic, are nowhere near as smart as you think you are; and for the bare-faced atheists by using the same argument in reverse.) But what if there *is* a solution.... It was the face beneath mine on the beach when she had been pulled from the ocean and my breath had not been enough. What, indeed. Spending a day immersed in the Caspian Republic is a pleasure I'm deeply glad to inform you is exactly what this rather somber, for me at least, holiday required. I needed morally complex characters, ones whose simplest expressions of self are free of embarrassing innocence and unmarred by mawkish candor. I needed to be with my fellow hideously betrayed and painfully reassembled, then betrayed again...and again...and again...bitter, disappointed, unable to imagine what trust would even look like, romantics. They teem in the totalitarian terrors of the Caspian Republic. I needed to feel that my brain's energy was fully and unremittingly drawn down to understand the convolutions of the story's moral landscape. "Everyone's soul is unique...{a}nd just as your body is built with the protein and calcium and iron you consume every day, your soul is built with words. The words you read, and the words you hear. The soul consumes words, and then it expresses itself through them in a way that is unique to that soul." Success! Love will always fuck you up; and the ways in which love fucks you up are truly epic in this story. Thee and me, fellow QUILTBAGgers, are presented on these pages as people of complexity and subtlety. There's really no sex of any sort; it's alluded to and it's very much part of the proceedings, but nobody gets down to business. In exchange, lesbians' love is utterly unremarkable. Men's love is less present; but it does come, when it shows up, as a moment of bathos and facetious secretiveness ("...what did he do?" Your husband, unless I completely misread the subtext, isn't particularly respectful from a cishet man no matter that it's amusingly phrased). Oh well...can't really expect otherwise, given the two men involved. There was absolutely no way on Earth I'd've picked those guys out as my fellows, gotta hand that to Author Sharpson! So half-a-star gone for the three w-bombs dropped on my innocent, unsuspecting head; another half-star for being sniggeringly dismissive of the only gay male couple in the entire book. But leaving the read, the ending, well...that has to put some luster back on the read...it's a delight, if a marred and flawed delight, of a read. It gives a reader a rare treat: Reading about grown people, the adult end of the room, is a rapturous and infrequently encountered pleasure in the YA-heavy lists of SF/F publishers. A novel of ideas, one that examines the cracks and the broken places in Love and Trust, one that asks you to spend more than just the usual amount of energy on the read deserves a warm and delighted welcome, louder and stronger for the fact that it's the first...hopefully in a long line. But seriously. No more w-verbing. It's gross.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maine Colonial

    I read a publisher's advance review copy, provided via Netgalley. Wow, was I impressed by this book. First of all, Sharpson makes us understand the Caspian Republic very quickly. To me, it seemed like a sort of future mashup of East Germany and North Korea. Because the Caspian Republic is the only country in the world that bans artificial intelligence—which by then has been incorporated in humankind everywhere else—it’s essentially a hermit kingdom, a pariah country and a surveillance state. The I read a publisher's advance review copy, provided via Netgalley. Wow, was I impressed by this book. First of all, Sharpson makes us understand the Caspian Republic very quickly. To me, it seemed like a sort of future mashup of East Germany and North Korea. Because the Caspian Republic is the only country in the world that bans artificial intelligence—which by then has been incorporated in humankind everywhere else—it’s essentially a hermit kingdom, a pariah country and a surveillance state. The StaSec (state security), which Nikolai South works for, and ParSec (party security) tightly control all aspects of life in the country and anyone even slightly deviating from rules and orthodoxy is dealt with summarily. Life is harsher by the day, as other countries have blockaded the country, the infrastructure is crumbling and even the country’s leaders are slowly starving. In addition to reminding me East Germany and North Korea, there are unmistakable reminders of white supremacists, as the Caspian Republic is staunchly philosophically human supremacist. They have their version of “replacement theory” too, and the concomitant hatred and fear of the other. Anyway, so we start out with impressive world building. Sharpson treats this novel almost as if it’s history, with detailed descriptions of the origins of the Caspian Republic and all the military and political fighting that led to its establishment. Now on to characters. For a guy who has spent decades trying to ensure he doesn’t garner any attention from anybody, especially ParSec, Nikolai South quickly becomes an indelible character. He has a gently mocking tone in his inner dialog, with his tart observations directed at himself and to his country. Imagine his surprise—and fear—when the StaSec chief orders him to report to her. It turns out that it is precisely because of his decades-long self-effacement that she deems him the perfect person to handle a no-win assignment: be the minder for a foreign visitor who has come to identify her husband Paolo Xirau, a staunch party loyalist who was killed and found in his autopsy to be AI. Of course his widow Lily is AI too, and Nikolai is gobsmacked to find that she looks like his long-dead wife. Now Nikolai is in jumbled state of mind, wondering exactly what is going on and having great difficulty dealing with the maelstrom of his feelings about Lily Xirau. Not as sharp as he maybe should be, considering that there are forces within the Caspian Republic who want to kill Lily for the great sin of being AI and being in their country at the same time. This is a real standout read, positing an imaginable future not so many decades away. A future that is dauntingly dystopian in many ways, but full of humanity’s potential when it is open to possibility.

  3. 4 out of 5

    JasonA

    If Blade Runner and 1984 had a baby, it would grow up to be When the Sparrow Falls. Part dystopian sci-fi, part political thriller with a dash of humor; this wildly exceeded my expectations. In a future where super AIs advise the worlds' governments and human consciousness can be uploaded to computers and downloaded back into clone bodies, one small nation resists the Machine as the last vestiges of "true" humanity. Disavowing the "code" people and outlawing digital technology, a fascist regime If Blade Runner and 1984 had a baby, it would grow up to be When the Sparrow Falls. Part dystopian sci-fi, part political thriller with a dash of humor; this wildly exceeded my expectations. In a future where super AIs advise the worlds' governments and human consciousness can be uploaded to computers and downloaded back into clone bodies, one small nation resists the Machine as the last vestiges of "true" humanity. Disavowing the "code" people and outlawing digital technology, a fascist regime does their best to ensure that humanity will survive at all cost. When the autopsy of a high ranking party member reveals him to have been an AI, StaSec agent Nikolai South is assigned to escort the widow to identify the body. He quickly finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that he probably won't survive. I went into this not expecting much and am glad to be wrong. The world building is top notch. The author very quickly lets the reader get a good feel for how the society works. I don't think I've read a dystopian novel yet, where the rest of the world was a utopia. It was interesting seeing the juxtaposition of the two. In most dystopias, there is no better option; occasionally, there is a rumored land of freedom overseas, but it's always just rumors. Here, everyone knows what's just beyond their borders. If you're into dystopia novels, or just sci-fi in general, give this one a read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    When the Sparrow Falls scores a home run in three genres. It is a sure-fire contender for a Hugo Award nomination in science fiction, with a beautifully crafted future history and worldbuilding worthy of masters like Philip K Dick or even the sainted Asimov. It is a truly riveting thriller full of murder and conspiracy in which the protagonist knows exactly who he can trust: no one. It also explores human themes with a depth and careful attention to the writing that merits the title of literatur When the Sparrow Falls scores a home run in three genres. It is a sure-fire contender for a Hugo Award nomination in science fiction, with a beautifully crafted future history and worldbuilding worthy of masters like Philip K Dick or even the sainted Asimov. It is a truly riveting thriller full of murder and conspiracy in which the protagonist knows exactly who he can trust: no one. It also explores human themes with a depth and careful attention to the writing that merits the title of literature. The book is narrated by protagonist Nikolai South, an agent for State Security in the Caspian Republic. The Caspian Republic is the bastion defending pure humanity against the rest of the world, which allows “contran”, the transfer of a consciousness from an organic body to an artificial server or vice versa. Nikolai supports the principles of his country, but he is all too aware of its authoritarian nature and makes comments like, “Nominally the currency of the Caspian Republic was the moneta, but in truth the coin of the nation was fear.” When the most widely read writer in the Caspian Republic is killed and turns out to be an AI, South is assigned to escort his wife, who has come to identify and claim the body. He knows it will be a challenging assignment, but he finds his patriotic, professional, and personal loyalties challenged in ways he could never have imagined. The Prologue gave me the feeling that this was going to be a good read. It opens with “a clear, bright , quite savagely cold day… when poor old Mendelssohn was brought out into the courtyard before a crowd…and hanged from his neck while they watched and shuffled their feet against the cold.” Each chapter opens with a helpful quote from protagonist Nikolai South’s own time or from historical figures like Elon Musk. Now that Neil Sharpson has entered the world of the novel, I hope that he will be writing more. When the Sparrow Falls has a beautiful and satisfying ending, but there are certainly enough interesting aspects to the world he created that it could inspire another. Or, since Sharpson clearly does not lack imagination, he could give us another possible future. Whichever it is, I will be eager to read it. I received an advance review copy of this book from Netgalley and Tor.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chris Berko

    The science fiction part of this is peripheral, more in the setting and time frame and there were times I forgot I was reading something taking place far in the future. This is superb storytelling here. The climax of the action happened around 80% on my Kindle and from then on the book took me on an emotional roller coaster with the reveals as to what was actually going on and who was doing what. Some of the reveals took the wind out of me, some made me smile, some made my eyes sort of swell wit The science fiction part of this is peripheral, more in the setting and time frame and there were times I forgot I was reading something taking place far in the future. This is superb storytelling here. The climax of the action happened around 80% on my Kindle and from then on the book took me on an emotional roller coaster with the reveals as to what was actually going on and who was doing what. Some of the reveals took the wind out of me, some made me smile, some made my eyes sort of swell with liquid, and others totally pissed me off and I was not expecting those kinds of reactions when I started reading. This author brings life to AIs and all of the characters, whether real humans or fabricated, were easy to feel for and I cared about them and therefore the story and it makes Neil Sharpson an author to watch.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nick Brett

    I really enjoyed this. In essence a dystopian thriller set a couple of hundred years into the future. Mankind has embraced Artificial Intelligence but the Caspian Republic is a hold-out nation desperately clinging on to a version of humanity and hunting down any sign of AI activists in the country. Sadly the Caspian Republic is reminiscent of the old East Germany and the Stasi with a network of spies and informers. It is a nation gently going under as it is shunned by the rest of the AI dominate I really enjoyed this. In essence a dystopian thriller set a couple of hundred years into the future. Mankind has embraced Artificial Intelligence but the Caspian Republic is a hold-out nation desperately clinging on to a version of humanity and hunting down any sign of AI activists in the country. Sadly the Caspian Republic is reminiscent of the old East Germany and the Stasi with a network of spies and informers. It is a nation gently going under as it is shunned by the rest of the AI dominated world. When a prominent pro Government journalist is discovered to actually be an AI, it is decided that his widow may visit from the US to identify him. A minder is needed and the fall guy is a StaSec (State Security) agent who has spent many tears trying not to be noticed. Nikolai South thus becomes the thing he wants least, visible and responsible. And with the visit of the AI widow, he finds his world turned upside down and he has cause to review his own life and his choices over the years. And, through his narrative, we find out more about him, the Republic he lives in and the danger of the task he has been given. Sometimes you can lob a lot of great and familiar themes into a book and the sum is greater than the whole. Not here, this is a clever and thought provoking book. Lots of things you will “sort of” recognise from the cold war to Bladerunner but it all works and makes you think about the essence of humanity and what it actually is to be human. So much else in here from an ancient mystery to a love story and plenty you will be thinking about long after you have finished the book. A great novel.

  7. 4 out of 5

    FanFiAddict

    Rating: 9.5/10 Thanks to the publisher and author for an advance reading copy of When the Sparrow Falls for review consideration. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions. When the Sparrow Falls is a phenomenal debut; equal parts thrilling and emotionally-charged, Sharpson has written one of the most fascinating sci-fi dystopian stories I have read in quite a while. Think dashes of 1984 and Bladerunner. Such an interesting concept here. Sharpson adapted When the Sparrow Falls from a play he w Rating: 9.5/10 Thanks to the publisher and author for an advance reading copy of When the Sparrow Falls for review consideration. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions. When the Sparrow Falls is a phenomenal debut; equal parts thrilling and emotionally-charged, Sharpson has written one of the most fascinating sci-fi dystopian stories I have read in quite a while. Think dashes of 1984 and Bladerunner. Such an interesting concept here. Sharpson adapted When the Sparrow Falls from a play he wrote over the course of several years called ‘The Caspian Sea’. We have seen our fair share of adaptations from movies and television, but it is quite rare to see a play or screenplay. The book is almost written in an episodic manner, playing timelines in the present and the past together to weave through the entirety of the story. Sort of similar to acts in a play, so you can tell the author leaned on his strengths. I think what hit me most about this novel was the emotional involvement I felt with Agent Nikolai South, who is our main protagonist. He has just been getting by for these past 30 years after his wife passed and is suddenly thrown head over heels into this conspiracy that he has no real gumption for. Protecting something that has no right to be in the Caspian Republic, yet the connection he feels with Lily because of the resemblance to his wife feels so real. There is so much going on in this novel, and just when you think you have it all figured out, Sharpson doles out these little plot twists at the very end that just leave you reeling. I absolutely LOVED this novel and I hope it garners the readership it deserves. Definitely looking forward to more from this author.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Bensen

    Finally you can read this book! I've been sitting with my hands for a year since my friend and colleague Neil gave me this manuscript to beta-read. The feedback I gave him was pretty useless: "I love it! It's perfect!" Don't let the book's official description fool you. When the Sparrow Falls is not techno-pessimistic. Sharpson presents a future where AI has made the Earth a pretty good place to live...except the oppressive, backward little dictatorship where they banned it. The main character is Finally you can read this book! I've been sitting with my hands for a year since my friend and colleague Neil gave me this manuscript to beta-read. The feedback I gave him was pretty useless: "I love it! It's perfect!" Don't let the book's official description fool you. When the Sparrow Falls is not techno-pessimistic. Sharpson presents a future where AI has made the Earth a pretty good place to live...except the oppressive, backward little dictatorship where they banned it. The main character is a member of the first generation born in "The Caspian Republic." He was there, working as a policeman, as the place turned ever more hell-hole-ward. Since then, his family and friends have all either been killed (like his wife) or have given up (like him). And then he gets a chance to make things better. I don't think When the Sparrow Falls has much in common with Phillip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, but yes, it's quite John LeCarre. Lots of lonely, gray people on snowy streets. It might also remind of Charles Stross or Sam Hughes...that glitter of possibilities, running under the cold ground like electricity. Grab it. Read it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    6/29/2021 Did not expect to be bawling like a baby by the end. Full review tk later today at TheFrumiousConsortium.net. 6/29/2021 This brilliant novel is as if you took the best parts of Blade Runner and Gorky Park and Vertigo and mashed them all together with the most tender empathy and an eye to not only singularity but also the meaning of godhood. My only complaint with this book is that I'd freaking love it if the showdown between Natasha and Sally had been expanded into an entire book of its 6/29/2021 Did not expect to be bawling like a baby by the end. Full review tk later today at TheFrumiousConsortium.net. 6/29/2021 This brilliant novel is as if you took the best parts of Blade Runner and Gorky Park and Vertigo and mashed them all together with the most tender empathy and an eye to not only singularity but also the meaning of godhood. My only complaint with this book is that I'd freaking love it if the showdown between Natasha and Sally had been expanded into an entire book of its own instead of being limited to a chapter and a half. I do hope Neil Sharpson considers doing that: even tho readers of this book will know how it ends, I think it would still be an utterly fascinating read, especially if it's written with the same verve and heart as this book was. When The Sparrow Falls is the story of State Security Agent Nikolai South, a man whose career and involvement in Party politics has been so perfunctory as to be almost suspicious in a country where ambition and paranoia are the norm. South lives in the Caspian Republic, the last bastion of unadulterated humanity, free of the corrupting influence of Artificial Intelligence. AI not only advises the rest of the world's governments but also offers people an extension on their lifespans, allowing their personalities to be uploaded from their dying bodies into dataspace, then downloaded from dataspace into clone bodies. The Caspian Republic was formed on a revulsion at the idea of this, but the passing decades have moved it from an enclave of dreamers and philosophers (who casually ignore the genocide that allowed them to set up their nation) to a police state whose people are afraid to speak aloud their hopes and dreams. When South is summoned to meet the acting head of State Security, he immediately fears that one of his indiscretions -- warning a witness to hide before the thugs of Party Security can find him, not reporting graffiti or other petty crimes, being a less than enthusiastic Party member -- is going to cost him his freedom, if not his life. Instead, Deputy Director Augusta Niemann has a job for him. The recent death of firebrand journalist Paulo Xirao was shocking less for how it happened than for the revelation that Xirao, whose stock in trade was unimaginative if fervent polemics against technology, was actually an AI himself, with registered citizenships in both America and Europe. His widow Lily wants to fly into the Caspian Republic to identify him. Feeling pressure from the outside world, Niemann is inclined to allow it. Ofc, Lily will need a babysitter, which is where South comes in. The last thing South expects, however, is for Lily to bear an uncanny resemblance to his late wife Olesya. Soon, South is plunged into a disorienting game of trying to protect Lily from people hostile to any AI setting foot in Caspian Territory, while striving to uphold the ideals of a Republic he still believes in, even if the reality has proven bitterly disappointing. I rather expected to enjoy the heady ideas and fast-paced thrills and dark humor of this exploration of both AI and authoritarianism, but I did not expect to be crying my eyes out at the end, especially at old Niko's advice for Lily's stories. The amount of love for humanity is overwhelming in the best possible way, as Mr Sharpson considers not only the technological possibilities available to us but also the ways in which we need to remember what truly matters. And, oh boy, is this one of the most politically astute novels I've read in, perhaps, ever! Mr Sharpson ably dissects the claims for and counterclaims against a nation founded on what's essentially a principle of exclusion, while subtly critiquing real world atrocities throughout history. For being a science fiction novel, it also features one of the best fictional portraits of a politician who is hero and villain both. That this wildly intelligent sci-fi thriller is, on top of everything else, a debut novel is a truly impressive feat. I am 100% nominating this for next year's Hugos. When The Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson was published today June 29 2021 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including Bookshop!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    TL;DR The gritty world of Neil Sharpson’s When the Sparrow Falls stayed with me long after I finished. This dystopian thriller is highly recommended to SF and mystery fans. Disclaimer: The publisher provided a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Any and all opinions that follow are mine alone. Review: When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson Rarely do I read dystopian fiction anymore. It’s hard to read those stories as democracy comes under assault, but when TL;DR The gritty world of Neil Sharpson’s When the Sparrow Falls stayed with me long after I finished. This dystopian thriller is highly recommended to SF and mystery fans. Disclaimer: The publisher provided a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Any and all opinions that follow are mine alone. Review: When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson Rarely do I read dystopian fiction anymore. It’s hard to read those stories as democracy comes under assault, but when I do, I remember why I like dystopian fiction. These stories bring up important questions about us as humans. Dystopian fiction asks what does it mean to live under authoritarian regimes. The answer is often fatalism. Humans accept it. We resist in small ways, but we also have to survive. Dystopian fiction asks is merely surviving actually living. At the beginning of When the Sparrow Falls, Neil Sharpson’s main character is just surviving day-to-day. But when given a dangerous assignment that brings someone from his past to him, his memories show him living a life that’s more than just work. Will he wake up and resist or simply survive? State Security Agent Nikolai South has lived most of his life by keeping his head down and avoiding notice. He attends the minimum number of party meetings; he doesn’t pursue promotion opportunities. He’s content working as a low level agent. On an assignment to check out a suspected CONTRAN (short for Conscienceness Transfer), he and his partner find two bodies as the women underwent the illegal procedure. The Caspian Republic styles itself as the final bastion for ‘natural’ humans. There is no artificial intelligence to control life; there aren’t even smartphones. Outside the Caspian Republic, three super AIs have taken over for humanity, and the problem of transferring human conscienceness has been solved. Humans can now join AIs in post-singularity electronic worlds. But the thought of this is revolting to the people of the Caspian Republic, even Agent South. Upon the death of one of the Caspian Republic’s most famous propaganda writer, the government learns that he was a ‘machine.’ This writer was an AI in a human body, who had come to the Caspian Republic for unknown reasons. The writer’s widow is given special dispensation to come to the Caspian Republic to identify him. Agent South is given the assignment of escorting her and determining if she’s a spy. South finds himself exactly opposite of what he wants; he’s in the eyes of powerful government officials and being watched by State Security’s nemesis, Party Security. When the widow shows up looking exactly like his late wife, his loyalty will be tested. His beliefs will be tested, and South’s afraid he’ll sacrifice all for the machine that looks like his wife. When the Sparrow Falls was an atmospheric story. It reminded me of the stories about Soviet Russia. The Caspian Republic is an authoritarian state beset by sanctions from and technologically behind the rest of the world. Everyone is afraid of the state, even those doing the thug work of the state. People are starving; people are afraid. Outside the republic, people are living much better lives and living potentially forever in a post-singularity world. Sharpson has written an excellent noir story set in a horrifying society. The main mystery, what was an AI doing in a society opposed to its being, is supported by little mysteries throughout the story that add up to something very interesting. This story embodies the saying that the journey is better than the destination. While the solves mostly satisfied, following South through this repressed society was fantastic. As I read, I felt the same oppressive air as South. Sharpson portrayed the Caspian Republic’s stoicism in such a way as to make Russians proud. Fallen Agent South carries the novel, as is necessary for a first person perspective. He has the noir detectives fault of wanting to do the wrong thing but having to do the right thing. He’s not one for grand gestures of resistance, but he does engage in kindness here and there. In the beginning of the novel, he warns a man to run even though it could cost South his freedom. In reality, Nikolai isn’t living, though. He’s just going through the motions that look like life. South never got over the death of his wife. Their relationship, which it would be generous to call it rocky, scarred him for life. Throughout the novel, she’s never far from his mind. How could she be with the AI he’s protecting looking exactly like her? But what defined South was his determination and stubbornness. Even while guarding the AI, he’s still thinking about and interested in the CONTRAN case from the beginning. He may not want to pursue the case but he can’t help but be curious. His worn down realism about the Caspian Republic means he knows imprisonment or death follows any wrong step; yet, he still sticks his nose in where he shouldn’t. He still talks to the ‘machine’ even though she may corrupt him. Sweet Surrender Nikolai is the main character, and the Caspian Republic is the biggest supporting character. The reader will learn about it, its history, its politics, and, even, the dirty secrets it tries to hide. Nikolai isn’t exactly a patriot, and his cynicism regarding his country feels earned. Through him, we get to see how and why the Caspian Republic exists in a world dominated by AIs. All the other characters aren’t given much time, but through each of them, we see the world sketched without Nikolai’s personal biases. It’s excellent world-building. One of the interesting things about this world is the role of philosophers and journalists in maintaining the status quo, in perpetuating the propaganda. It says a lot about how media shapes a society, which is then undercut by no one in society believing the media. But Sharpson doesn’t leave it at this simple of a portrayal. The book opens with the hanging of a writer, beloved by the state, because of his betrayal. He did the worst thing a state-sponsored propagandist can do, he publicly changed his mind. Building a Mystery I love when science fiction mixes with mystery. It may be my favorite subgenre of sci fi. Solving the mystery drives the story, but it’s not why we read these stories. We prefer stories with interesting characters that reveal information in a way that keeps us glued to the page. I’ve heard that the main character should be one step behind the reader in solving the mystery. I don’t think this is true because I enjoy mysteries where I don’t really know how they will be solved. But I want them to be solved in a way that is satisfying. Sharpson does that with most mysteries. There’s one mystery that I’m not sure I understand the answer to it. If what I think is correct, it’s unsatisfying; so, I prefer to think I don’t understand the answer. In the end, my nitpick is small and a personal preference. Other readers will disagree with me, and that’s great. Conclusion Neil Sharpson’s When the Sparrow Falls is an excellent dystopian thriller. Agent South and the world-building are wonderful. Despite the Caspian Republic being a horrible place, I looked forward to returning to it each time I picked up the book. When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson is available from Tor Books on June 29th, 2021.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    The Caspian Republic is a Soviet-style dystopia, but set in a future in which it is the sole holdout against rule by Artificial Intelligence (AI,) against virtual living, and against downloading one’s consciousness. When, Nikolai South, an unimpressive agent of the State Security agency is given the seemingly undemanding, yet diplomatically sensitive, job of escorting the foreign widow of a deceased “journalist,” something is amiss. Nikolai’s work philosophy has been to find the sweet spot where The Caspian Republic is a Soviet-style dystopia, but set in a future in which it is the sole holdout against rule by Artificial Intelligence (AI,) against virtual living, and against downloading one’s consciousness. When, Nikolai South, an unimpressive agent of the State Security agency is given the seemingly undemanding, yet diplomatically sensitive, job of escorting the foreign widow of a deceased “journalist,” something is amiss. Nikolai’s work philosophy has been to find the sweet spot where he is neither noticed as a shirker nor for his excellence, and his mastery of this Goldilocks Zone has made him nearly invisible to upper management – or so he thought. What makes the job tricky is that the journalist, a man who wrote rants against AI and downloading of consciousness, turns out to be a downloaded consciousness, as is his wife, making her visit a little like the head of the Dalai Lama Fan Club being invited to Beijing. I found this story compelling. The book perspective jumps toward the end (throughout most of the book, it’s first-person narrated,) but for the most part the perspective shifts aren’t problematic. While this shift away from first person narration isn’t hard to follow, I would say this section goes on longer than I would have preferred. There is a point about two-thirds of the way through at which we lose the the thread of Nikolai, and at that point the story becomes largely a history of a fictional country (which, sans a central character, is a bit tedious,) but then the book resumes a character-centric story to the book’s end (and I resumed enjoying it.) If you’re interested in books that make you question what being human means, and where the boundaries lie, you’ll find this book intriguing and worth reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    One Sentence Summary: When the victim of a killing is discovered to be a "machine" in the last sanctuary for humans, Agent Nikolai South is tasked with escorting his widow, but something greater seems to be a play, and it may have to do with this machine who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. Overall When the Sparrow Falls is the kind of dystopian novel I've been searching for. I love that I could clearly figure out how the world went from here to there. At times, the Caspian Republic One Sentence Summary: When the victim of a killing is discovered to be a "machine" in the last sanctuary for humans, Agent Nikolai South is tasked with escorting his widow, but something greater seems to be a play, and it may have to do with this machine who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. Overall When the Sparrow Falls is the kind of dystopian novel I've been searching for. I love that I could clearly figure out how the world went from here to there. At times, the Caspian Republic felt like a post-war country, but there was a sci-fi edge to it with AI running the world outside of the Republic. The characters were all playing complicated games and had secrets hiding up their sleeves like a deck of cards, all of them maneuvering South around the board like a chess piece, no matter how he tried to outwit them. When the Sparrow Falls is an incredible dystopian novel with fear in the air and change on the horizon. Extended Thoughts When AI arose and the reins of government handed over to the Triumvirate, a trio of AI from three different continents, the Caspian Republic was formed to be the last home for humans and humankind. AI are not allowed and one has never set foot inside its borders. Until now. After his unfortunate death, famed journalist Paulo Xirau is discovered to have been a machine. Around the same time, Agent Nikolai South and his partner are called in to investigate the deaths of twin sisters. They discover it's a case of consciousness transfers (contran), in which the women's consciousnesses were transferred out of their bodies in order to put them into AI bodies, which is illegal in the Republic. But, before he can investigate further, South is called on for a special task: escort the deceased AI's widow to identify his remains. But the widow, Lily, bears an uncanny resemblance to South's late wife. Even though she is machine, he begins to see her in a different light, one that will have him caught in many webs as the Republic is on the brink of incredible change. For years, I've called myself a fan of dystopian fiction, but hadn't ever actually found one I loved. In their own ways, they all failed to convince me of their dystopian nature. When the Sparrow Falls is the first to give me everything I didn't know I needed all of my dystopian reads to have. I loved that I could clearly figure out how our world became South's world. Of course, there were some things I had to assume, but it was like following breadcrumbs, and then the world just exploded in my mind. The world building is fantastic. The history is all laid out, not in a linear manner, but in bits and pieces that are still easy to follow and put together. The world makes complete sense to me, and even feels plausible as a possible future. There were some things that did feel a little far-fetched, but I loved how impressive the Caspian Republic was. There was so much depth to it that it made me feel like I was there, following South around. As great as the world building is, though, there isn't exactly much else to the book. There is some mystery, but it's not nearly as front and center as I expected considering the curious fact that Lily appears identical to his late wife. South's job is to escort Lily, not try to figure out who contranned the sisters, but there are a lot of moving pieces around him and he and Lily seemed to be somewhere in the middle. This isn't so much the reader looking over his shoulder, peering in to see how he's sorting things out. It's more of we're in his head, seeing history from his eyes, and putting together a timeline and information about all these moving pieces to figure out the next step. While the mystery is deftly and softly tied into the story, I felt it was more about the detailing of history and South putting together pieces from his past to figure things out in the present. Otherwise, he spends an awful lot of time talking to people and sitting around while Lily works on identifying her husband's remains, which is itself a fascinating point. But I still really enjoyed reading this. I was surprised by just how easily and quickly I flew through it. The world was so immersive, the history so fascinating, that I couldn't wait to pick it up again. It's quite incredible that all the plots, machinations, and uncovering of plots and secret identities happened in a very compressed amount of time. In a way, it seems fast-paced, but there's so much thinking and retelling of the past that it kind of messed with my sense of how time progressed in the book. The only thing that really bothered me was most of the last 10 chapters. It got weird. Of course, the book required a good ending and couldn't really end earlier than those last several chapters, but I wish it had been smoother. Instead, it was a bit jarring and kind of knocked me out of the story. Still, it did provide a good end for all the characters. The characters were all remarkable. Many of them did blend together and I had a difficult time remember who was in which Party (which also confused me a lot), but the main characters were absolutely fascinating. The higher ups have their own orders and chess games going on and absolutely played their public and private roles to perfection. Lily felt like such a nice breath of fresh air despite being a machine. Being in a human body is completely new to her and she's stuck with the duality of being human and AI. I both loved and hated South. As the narrator, the reader comes to know him very well. He's a good worker, just going along under the radar, but there's a lot of depth to him, a lot from his past that explains just about everything about him. But it very often felt like the story was spiraling out of control around him and he was just caught up in it for the ride. He was overshadowed by the world and the story, which felt weird considering the reader gets the story through his eyes. Still, When the Sparrow Falls is the most impressive dystopian novel I've had the pleasure to read. I loved everything about the world and was quite pleasantly surprised by just how in-depth the characters were. They all had their histories and motivations and it all helped push the story forward. It did feel like everything just suddenly decided to come to a head with Lily's arrival, but I suppose everything needs a catalyst and she was convenient. Overall, though, a delightful dystopian read with tons to offer a reader. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Henkins

    When the Sparrow Falls How many books are contained within When the Sparrow Falls? I would answer 2 l/2. Packing in a lot of plot in some cases makes a novel fast-paced and what some people call “unputdownable.” In the case of Neil Sharpson's novel, however, something else occurs. The “main” story is intriguing and engaging set in a dystopian future world built with multiple layers of dimension. The first-person narrator, Nikolai, has been a state security (Stasec) agent for twenty-nine years in When the Sparrow Falls How many books are contained within When the Sparrow Falls? I would answer 2 l/2. Packing in a lot of plot in some cases makes a novel fast-paced and what some people call “unputdownable.” In the case of Neil Sharpson's novel, however, something else occurs. The “main” story is intriguing and engaging set in a dystopian future world built with multiple layers of dimension. The first-person narrator, Nikolai, has been a state security (Stasec) agent for twenty-nine years in Caspian, an Organic Supremacist country surrounded by other countries, actually most of the world, run by super AI. Even the State and Party agents live in fear; thus Nikolai has lived his life with his head down, doing absolutely nothing to be recognized as an individual. He is loyal to the New Humanist Party, but he resents the price of loyalty – the fear and hopelessness in which his country is mired. The entire populace lives in dread of Stasec and Parsec (Party security) which run the country with the typical totalitarian machinery. Yet it is the only country restricted to fleshly, human beings. Even the state and Party agents live in fear; thus Nikolai has lived his life with his head down, doing absolutely nothing to be recognized as an individual. This approach leads him to be the perfect State escort for a special visitor to Caspian since he will not be missed if things go awry. The visitor is special because she is an AI who has lived her entire life in an “ocean” where anything she thought of or wanted would appear. To be in the Caspian Republic, Lily had her consciousness downloaded into a synthetic body. This is the only way she could enter the country to view the remains of her husband who lived in Caspian for twenty years without being unmasked as an AI himself. Her visit sets off a series of frantic spy vs. spy episodes and frantic soul-searching for Nikolai. The second story is the creation of the Caspian Republic from the former Azerbaijan and adjacent territories and the rise of StaSec and ParSec. When the Sparrow Falls, somewhat reminiscent of The City & The City, embeds a scrupulous history of these events within the first story's narrative: too much for many readers, I suspect, though those parts can be skimmed. The half-story exists at the end of the novel, recounting in summary the overthrow of the Republic and the subsequent lives of Lily and others living in Caspian. Enough there for a full novel of intrigue, betrayal and – finally! – hope. It's definitely worth reading to the end; the finale contains many surprises as well as a better future for the Caspian Republic. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elli (Kindig Blog)

    I always get slightly wary when a book is billed as being the perfect mashup between two brilliant and important books. I always get excited, it always raises my expectations and a lot of the time I am left disappointed. When The Sparrow Falls is billed as ‘1984 meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ and I can’t think of a more apt description, except maybe to add it also reminded me of North Korea and the video game ‘Papers Please’. The book really immerses us into the world of The Caspian I always get slightly wary when a book is billed as being the perfect mashup between two brilliant and important books. I always get excited, it always raises my expectations and a lot of the time I am left disappointed. When The Sparrow Falls is billed as ‘1984 meets Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ and I can’t think of a more apt description, except maybe to add it also reminded me of North Korea and the video game ‘Papers Please’. The book really immerses us into the world of The Caspian Republic; a place where the people are starving, neighbours spy on each other for the government and the threat of disappearing due to the vague offence of ‘treason’ is commonplace. We also get snippets of books, interviews or official documents at the top of each chapter which helps to give us more background information and made the place feel more realistic. Our main character is Nikolai Smith, a government operative who is just trying to do the bare minimum to survive without sticking his head too far above the parapet. I loved Nicky’s tone of voice throughout the story – there is a real dark humour and dry wit to the book which had me giggling out-loud throughout and yet the end few chapters still managed to reduce me to tears. As the book progresses we get introduced to quite a few characters and organisations which occasionally felt a little confusing but Sharpson’s assured hand guides us through the story well. It’s self-contained and the ending skips ahead in time to show us what has happened to the Republic itself and the key players within it which was really nice – there’s no pesky cliff hangers. I read a lot of books on NetGalley which I enjoy and are worthy of 5 stars but When The Sparrow Falls was one of those books I genuinely just lost myself in and enjoyed for the sake of reading, rather than thinking about needing to review. I think this is Sharpson’s debut novel (although he has written a lot of plays) and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next – he’s certainly an author to watch! Overall, When The Sparrow Falls is one of my KINDIG GEMS for 2021 – a fantastic and grim read which is perfect for fans of 1984 – go out and buy this book as soon as it’s released! Thank you to NetGalley and Rebellion – Solaris for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review. For more of my reviews check out www.kindig.co.uk

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for an advance reading copy of this novel. Neil Sharpson's When the Sparrow Falls is a thoughtful and well-executed espionage and conspiracy mystery with a sci-fi twist. For the setting, take a Soviet-era satellite state with its complex and security bureaucracy, with a "party" constantly on the lookout for disloyalty including within the separate "state" police apparatus, and set it in a world that is otherwise run by AI-guided and capitalism-fueled democracy. Ho Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for an advance reading copy of this novel. Neil Sharpson's When the Sparrow Falls is a thoughtful and well-executed espionage and conspiracy mystery with a sci-fi twist. For the setting, take a Soviet-era satellite state with its complex and security bureaucracy, with a "party" constantly on the lookout for disloyalty including within the separate "state" police apparatus, and set it in a world that is otherwise run by AI-guided and capitalism-fueled democracy. However, your only perspective on the situation is from within the state, paranoid and seemingly besieged by an ever-present threat of embargo and infiltration and dissidence. Enter a political writer, railing eloquently in state publications against the external AI threat, who falls into the party's hands and upon execution is found to be an AI, the very infiltration that the party fears most. Enter the state police detective assigned to investigate the author and his wife, an AI who is invited to visit and claim her husband's effects amid a smuggling scheme, a vaguely secretive cabal of dissenters, a technology that can transfer consciousness into the AI cloud outside those paranoid borders, and the desire for the people trapped inside those borders to escape into blissful oblivion amid promises of everlasting digital life. It's a fascinating juxtaposition of anachronistic Cold War-era paranoid spycraft and post-modern technological self-justification, with a likely unreliable and potentially AI-sympathetic narrator as our guide through a well-plotted tale of deep and complex conspiracy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Liz (Quirky Cat)

    Looking for a new dystopian science fiction novel to dive into? Check out Neil Sharpson's When the Sparrow Falls. Agent Nikolai South has learned two important rules during his time in the Caspian Republic. Rule number one: trust no one. Rule number two: work just hard enough to avoid making enemies, but not too hard. South's life is about to get thrown into a pit of turmoil, as he's set to guard the first machine ever allowed into the country. Only... there's something personal about this case, Looking for a new dystopian science fiction novel to dive into? Check out Neil Sharpson's When the Sparrow Falls. Agent Nikolai South has learned two important rules during his time in the Caspian Republic. Rule number one: trust no one. Rule number two: work just hard enough to avoid making enemies, but not too hard. South's life is about to get thrown into a pit of turmoil, as he's set to guard the first machine ever allowed into the country. Only... there's something personal about this case, as the widow looks far too much like his late wife for comfort. "Power is a poison." When the Sparrow Falls is a fascinating specimen to come from the world of science fiction. Throw in the dystopian undercurrent, and you've got something really compelling and borderline haunting about the whole thing. In other words: I really enjoyed When the Sparrow Falls. The world is a particular blend that I love - tech and dystopian themes that are hard to find done right. Yet the balance here is perfect, and it didn't distract from South's story in the least. If anything, it enhanced it, as his story goes from being that of a typical agent to something so much more personal. I was expecting that twist (thanks to the book's description), and yet I was still blown away by what followed. Thanks to Tor Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own. Read more reviews over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks

  17. 4 out of 5

    Frank Burns

    This was excellent. The rapture of the nerds has arrived and the last remaining 'true' humans have overtaken a country on the Caspian Sea and banned Artificial Intelligence. This goes about as well as you would expect. The country quickly becomes a rotten state, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia or the DDR. This book is a tragic tale of one of the secret policemen in this state. Not necessarily evil but certainly complicit. Into his slowly decaying world an AI is thrown, in a body that This was excellent. The rapture of the nerds has arrived and the last remaining 'true' humans have overtaken a country on the Caspian Sea and banned Artificial Intelligence. This goes about as well as you would expect. The country quickly becomes a rotten state, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia or the DDR. This book is a tragic tale of one of the secret policemen in this state. Not necessarily evil but certainly complicit. Into his slowly decaying world an AI is thrown, in a body that he thinks looks exactly like his dead wife. The author does a nice job of conveying that most of these characters are compromised but makes you empathise with them and provides a decent redemptive arc for the main protagonists. I am only shying away from 5 stars as there is a literal Deus Ex Machina used (and to be fair, telegraphed as such) to smooth over a plot point, that I personally felt was unnecessary. I am not a fan of Deus Ex Machina. Still this is a very good book. Recommended and I will look for the sequel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    James

    Rebellion Publishing provided an ARC for my review of this novel. Neil Sharpson's "When the Sparrow Falls" is a top notch political thriller set in the not so distant future. Nikolai Soul, the central character, is a long term State Security Officer for the Caspian Republic, who has never been promoted and has just been assigned to escort Lily, who is seeking information about the death of her husband, Paulo Xirau. In this world, the Caspian Republic is the sole refuge of humanity, where Artificia Rebellion Publishing provided an ARC for my review of this novel. Neil Sharpson's "When the Sparrow Falls" is a top notch political thriller set in the not so distant future. Nikolai Soul, the central character, is a long term State Security Officer for the Caspian Republic, who has never been promoted and has just been assigned to escort Lily, who is seeking information about the death of her husband, Paulo Xirau. In this world, the Caspian Republic is the sole refuge of humanity, where Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are not allowed. The rest of the world is run by three separate AIs, where people may live in a virtual reality. People also routinely upload their essence on-line to extend their lives. The plot is intricate and the world building is extensive and excellent. There is a bit of exposition towards the end but that did not detract from the story as it was interesting and shored up many loose ends.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tania Hutley

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up an early copy of this book, but WOW. It turned out to be a gritty noir political thriller set in a 1984/North Korea-styled dystopian far future. I'm not usually a fan of books with complex political intrigue, but the world building was so cleverly layered into the story that I was gripped from the beginning to the unexpected end. The writing was excellent, the plot twisty, and the ideas intriguing. An impressive and most enjoyable novel. Thank you Net I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up an early copy of this book, but WOW. It turned out to be a gritty noir political thriller set in a 1984/North Korea-styled dystopian far future. I'm not usually a fan of books with complex political intrigue, but the world building was so cleverly layered into the story that I was gripped from the beginning to the unexpected end. The writing was excellent, the plot twisty, and the ideas intriguing. An impressive and most enjoyable novel. Thank you Netgalley for providing an ARC.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Luka

    A techno-thriller dealing (mainly) with humanity in the age of AI seems oddly prescient. However, it feels, at least to those of us who lived in the Socialist states like the USSR and Yugoslavia, oddly nostalgic. There is a masterful blend of nostalgia and sorrow and hope and joy, and in that, this novel delivers a rollercoaster you would be very wise to enjoy at leisure (not like myself, who read it in a Sunday morning 3 hour binge). Wholeheartedly recommend if you like AI, Technology, nostalgia A techno-thriller dealing (mainly) with humanity in the age of AI seems oddly prescient. However, it feels, at least to those of us who lived in the Socialist states like the USSR and Yugoslavia, oddly nostalgic. There is a masterful blend of nostalgia and sorrow and hope and joy, and in that, this novel delivers a rollercoaster you would be very wise to enjoy at leisure (not like myself, who read it in a Sunday morning 3 hour binge). Wholeheartedly recommend if you like AI, Technology, nostalgia, and humans in general.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    Some spot on blurbing on the dust jacket for this book. Personally, I felt that it could have been a stronger story if it had ended after chapter 34. The last six chapters of epilogue disrupted the pacing and changed the tone considerably. Still, this is a very enjoyable debut and I’m glad I managed to find a copy on a shop (I tried a few) shelf in Southern Maine while traveling. A big thanks to the folks at Nonesuch Books in South Portland for living up to their store slogan, A Storeful of Idea Some spot on blurbing on the dust jacket for this book. Personally, I felt that it could have been a stronger story if it had ended after chapter 34. The last six chapters of epilogue disrupted the pacing and changed the tone considerably. Still, this is a very enjoyable debut and I’m glad I managed to find a copy on a shop (I tried a few) shelf in Southern Maine while traveling. A big thanks to the folks at Nonesuch Books in South Portland for living up to their store slogan, A Storeful of Ideas.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leonardo

    I would like to thank Net Galley and the author for providing me the opportunity to preview this book. I found the book to be a breezy, fast read, written in a very easily followed conversational tone throughout. The content is filled with futuristic technology, intrigue, politics, and plot twists that kept me turning the pages to see where the story was going. This is an enjoyable tale worth savoring.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    As an avid reader of the Unshaved Mouse blog, I was really looking forward to this novel and it does not disappoint. Excellent world-building, excellent characters, gripping action - it's got everything you could want in a story. As an avid reader of the Unshaved Mouse blog, I was really looking forward to this novel and it does not disappoint. Excellent world-building, excellent characters, gripping action - it's got everything you could want in a story.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul Daniel Ash

    A horrifying fucken delight The story unfolds with masterful pacing, mediated through an authentic voice that’s both innocent and cynical, cowardly and brave, inhabiting a marvelously miserable world. So much terrible fun.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    *I received an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.* I finished this book over a week ago and still don't really know how to put into words my feelings towards it. In this dystopian world, humans are dying out and the only place left for them in a world ruled by AI is the Caspian Republic, where Agent Nikolai South lives or is trying to live because life in the Caspian Republic is not all that grand, but hey at least they aren't machines? The mystery itself is quite thrilling and I *I received an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.* I finished this book over a week ago and still don't really know how to put into words my feelings towards it. In this dystopian world, humans are dying out and the only place left for them in a world ruled by AI is the Caspian Republic, where Agent Nikolai South lives or is trying to live because life in the Caspian Republic is not all that grand, but hey at least they aren't machines? The mystery itself is quite thrilling and I loved the twisty ride, but I most enjoyed learning about the world, though Nikolai piecing together his history of the world does play into the central mystery of the story. And I loved Nikolai as a protagonist. He is someone who is very much trying to keep his head down and survive without getting anyone's attention and he has such a sharp inner monologue. His commentary about himself and his country were some of my favorite parts of the book. My one complaint (if you can call it that) is the jarring shift of the last 10% or so of the book. The mystery plot wraps up but then we get to see the fallout of the climax and we get to see even more of the unreliable narrator and while those are both things I usually love, the tonal shift really threw me off. Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this book and it is definitely one that will stick with me. And for once I actually agree with the publisher comps- this felt very reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, John le Carré, and Kurt Vonnegut.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Master class in world building. Great story on top. Absolutely loved it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I needed a book for a migraine day. Fiction is the best way to distract my brain from the pain. It also puts me into a certain mood for what to read. Here, I picked up this book as it dealt with a 99% AI world, but viewed from within a totalitarian country that has made AI a crime. What I didn’t expect is simply how moving the book becomes as we learn more about Agent South & Lily. The writing is wonderful, as seen from South’s point of view. He is a character that has suffered horribly throughou I needed a book for a migraine day. Fiction is the best way to distract my brain from the pain. It also puts me into a certain mood for what to read. Here, I picked up this book as it dealt with a 99% AI world, but viewed from within a totalitarian country that has made AI a crime. What I didn’t expect is simply how moving the book becomes as we learn more about Agent South & Lily. The writing is wonderful, as seen from South’s point of view. He is a character that has suffered horribly throughout his life in the Caspian Republic. He survives from day to day, never wanting to be noticed. The country is slowing collapsing in on itself, as the AI world embargos the country over its lack of civil rights. The Republic truly believes it is the last bastion of the human soul. They tell the populace that they are defending their freedom, while the reality is no one wants to invade. As the mysteries of South, Lily and the Republic unravel, it is both sad and heart warming. When a fiction book sticks in my head for days after I’ve finished, something good happened. To be human doesn’t mean you need to give up your freedom to the state. To be human doesn’t mean you have to forgo trust of others.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ernest

    Bladerunner meets 1984 in Neil Sharpson's debut novel about a world where humans are going extinct and AIs are ascendant, the Casipan Republic is a dismal refuge for humanity, combining the authoritarian tones of North Korea and Huxley's Brave New World. StaSec Agent Nikolai South has made a career out of not standing out, so he's surprised when he's given the assignment to look after Lilly, the wife of a Party propagandist who was killed...and discovered to be an AI. Of course Lily is too and s Bladerunner meets 1984 in Neil Sharpson's debut novel about a world where humans are going extinct and AIs are ascendant, the Casipan Republic is a dismal refuge for humanity, combining the authoritarian tones of North Korea and Huxley's Brave New World. StaSec Agent Nikolai South has made a career out of not standing out, so he's surprised when he's given the assignment to look after Lilly, the wife of a Party propagandist who was killed...and discovered to be an AI. Of course Lily is too and she's in danger from the anti-AI activists. Add that she's a dead ringer for his deceased wife, and the normally self-effacing South had better get his head in the game if he's going to keep his charge alive. This is getting a lot of very well-deserved buzz and it's worth checking out.

  29. 4 out of 5

    S. Naomi Scott

    My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reading copy of this novel from the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing for the opportunity. In the Twenty-Third Century, over half of the human race has evolved beyond the need for a physical body, their conscious minds transferred into an endless virtual nirvana. AI all but run the world, and for the most part hunger, poverty, and social inequality have been all but eradicated. But My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reading copy of this novel from the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing for the opportunity. In the Twenty-Third Century, over half of the human race has evolved beyond the need for a physical body, their conscious minds transferred into an endless virtual nirvana. AI all but run the world, and for the most part hunger, poverty, and social inequality have been all but eradicated. But in the Caspian Republic, home of the New Humanist movement, the last true humans make their stand in a repressive one party state, fighting a cold war against the machine world that they have no hope of winning. This novel is effectively two stories in one. On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward neo-noir thriller with a cyberpunk twist, in which the protagonist, State Security Agent Nikolai South is tasked with escorting and protecting the widow of a dead journalist through a city that would rip her apart if they found out who, or more accurately what, she really was. As the story unfolds, and more of the details and secrets of the journalist’s life are uncovered, South is forced to question his loyalty to the state, and even the so-called truth he’s been fed by the party that controls his every waking moment. Intertwined with this primary narrative is the history of the Caspian Republic, and the true story behind the nation’s formation and continued existence, which in itself is an intriguing look at the path to totalitarianism. This is an absolutely fantastic piece of writing. Developed by the author from his own successful stage play, it carries more than a hint of Philip K. Dick in its DNA, with a twist of Orwell’s 1984 thrown in for good measure. The words flow easily off the page, and the plot clips along at a cracking pace, never once being held up by the intermittent world building and exposition of the side story. Indeed, the bulk of that second narrative thread is presented as contextual quotes and in-world extracts at the head of each chapter. It’s an approach that Sharpson uses to great effect, keeping the reader suitably informed of the background specifics required for the next part of the main narrative. And that background is so rich in detail that it doesn’t take long for the reader to feel like they themselves are a part of the dark, oppressive world that’s been laid before them. Overall, this is definitely a book that I’d recommend to fans of noirish sci-fi and near-future dystopian tales, and I’m certainly going to be keeping an eye out for more works by Sharpson going forward.

  30. 4 out of 5

    LilliSt

    I have received a digital advance review copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you! 5 stars - thoughtful, well observed, pretty great! In the not too distant future earth is ruled by three super-AIs and a large part of humanity has uploaded their souls and left their bodies to live online or in a cloned biological suit. They share the world with AIs who have become sentient and live with humans as equals. And then there is the Caspian republic: built on an ideolog I have received a digital advance review copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you! 5 stars - thoughtful, well observed, pretty great! In the not too distant future earth is ruled by three super-AIs and a large part of humanity has uploaded their souls and left their bodies to live online or in a cloned biological suit. They share the world with AIs who have become sentient and live with humans as equals. And then there is the Caspian republic: built on an ideology that refuses anything "Machine" and the self-proclaimed home to the last remnants of humanity. But as it can be with states that are built on an ideology Caspian ends up being authoritan and deeply paranoid. The story is being told bei Nikolai South, an agent of State Security in the Caspian republic and the plot is actually told in a few sentences: Nikolai, a very average agent living a life under the radar, is assigned with welcoming a very unusual visitor. The first AI ever to visit Caspian is coming over to identify a dead man. But why does she seem to be the spitting image of Souths dead wife? And is her visit connected with the recent problem that someone is illegally uploading people to storage chips and smuggling them out into the free world? As it is with good books, it is not the story itself that sets it apart but rather the way it is told. The tone gets the balance just right: Caspian is bleak and it is clear right away that this country is destined to fail. Yet, there is always a sense of hope - being a decent human being, trusting your instincts about someone even if it goes agains everything you have ever been indoctrinated with - you cannot get that out of people, no matter how oppresisve the world you live in is. The story is very engaging and manages to end on a high note, which might come unexpected from just knowing the setting. The worldbuilding is great, dense and beautifully captured. As are the main characters of our story. It does show its roots in a play - the dialogue is spot on and we learn so much about the characters between the lines. And it is quite obvious that the author cares about his characters, they feel real and complex. This is a "truthful" book - by that I mean that the author knows people well, and the organizations and countries they form. There's so many excellent observations about human behaviour, which for me personally makes a book an instant winner. Judging from the cover (yes, I know), I expected a much bleaker, darker story and was pleasantly surprised. This one had me drawn in with the first sentence, actually. A great and rich reading experience, I'll definitely read anything Neil Sharpson puts out next!

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