When the Sparrow Falls is a sci-fi, dystopia novel and the debut novel of playwright and critical blogger Neil Sharpson, better known within the internet community as The Unshaved Mouse.
Set in future where the vast majority of the world has surrendered any sense of self-governance and left that in the metaphorical hands of super-advanced Artificial Intelligences, humanity no longer feels the need to remain human and have uploaded their minds into the web. In the remnants of the former Azerbaijan, the last holdout of pure humanity remains, The Caspian Republic. A land free of the domination of the A. I.s and the “machines” masquerading as humans. And subsequently a land of paranoia, desperation, starvation and conspiracies, where the wrong word can get you killed, or worse.
When noted propagandist Paulo Xirau dies and is discovered to be a “machine”, Nikolai South, an agent for the State Security, is tasked with escorting Xirau’s wife Lily, an A. I. herself, to identify her husband’s remains. South, who for decades has dodged ambition and promotion, now finds himself entangled in a web of dark secrets and murder. He must deal with the underhanded ruthlessness of the Party Security, the disconcerting fact that Lily resembles his late wife, and come face-to-face with the Republic’s sins and his own.
I find myself in an interesting position here, for starters there’s the fact that I’ve never much cared for dystopia stories, neither the famous ones like Orwell’s 1984 or the infamous like Meyer’s The Host. It just never much appealed to me. The second point is that Neil Sharpson’s own review blog was a big inspiration for my own critical eye and style when it comes to my writing. I very much want to be objective in my critique without wanting to come across as unfair or biased in that. So perhaps you can understand the awkwardness of the position.
But first and foremost let me say this, Sharpson wanted to write a dystopia novel, and he succeeded.
When the Sparrow Falls proudly wears its Cold War-era influence on its sleeve. Not a Cold War filled with James Bond action and intrigue but one of pure bleakness at the transparent lifelessness that surrounds our protagonist. Of the crumbling infrastructure and bread lines of Moscow. Of the racial and cultural tensions that occupied the Soviet blocs. And the knowledge that it’s far easier to end up on someone’s hit list than in their good graces invading your mind. Make no mistake, even when not reaching Orwellian levels of depression, this story is bleak.
It’s not for nothing that the book’s tagline is, “The Machine has already won.” Because more than just demonstrating the hopelessness of being the last bastion of humanity, the story also demonstrates how mechanical life is for those with no hope, who have become mere cogs within a government’s dogma. And the main character of South encaptures this viewpoint perfectly. An over-the-hill agent who has long since given up on being anyone important, Sharpson wonderfully shows the overwhelming experience it is for someone so ordinary to be caught up in the internal schemes of politics and the beautiful conflict within once the opportunities for doing something that feels safe, and doing something that feels right come along.
I can honestly say without fear of bias that this a fine work of fiction and I wish nothing but future success for Mr. Sharpson.