British Fiction Focus

Speak to Me

Late last week, Orbit launched the cover of one of this summer’s most buzzed about new books. Speak, by Waterstones Book Club author Louisa Hall, is “the story of artificial intelligence and of those who loved it, hated it, and created it.”

“A literary page turner that spans four centuries and examines the idea of who and what we define as human,” says Philipp Meyer, author of The Son—that epic of Texas—who reckons it reads “like a hybrid of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood.” Falling squarely on the other side of the recommendation spectrum, Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Emily St. John Mandel, late of Station Eleven, was impressed by Speak’s uniqueness:

Speak is that rarest of finds: a novel that doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve ever read. A complex, nuanced, and beautifully written meditation on language, immortality, the nature of memory, the ethical problems of artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human.

Brief though it may be, behold the British blurb:

Spanning geography and time, Speak takes us from Alan Turing’s conviction in the 1950s to a Silicon Valley Wunderkind imprisoned in 2040 for creating illegally lifelike dolls. From a pilgrim girl writing her diary to a traumatised young girl exchanging messages with a software program, all these lives have shaped and changed a single artificial intelligence—MARY3. In Speak, she tells you their story, and her own. It the last story she will ever tell, spoken both in celebration and in warning.

If that isn’t enough to give you a sense of what stands to make Speak special, Ecco Press, Hall’s publisher across the pond, released a rather more substantial synopsis. It’s on Goodreads, alongside a fair few four- and five-star reviews.

Here’s the cover, designed by Jack Smyth:

cover reveal Speak Louisa Hall Orbit Books

Now correct me if I’m wrong, all, but the subject of Jack Smyth’s stark cover for the Orbit edition is… not a little evocative of Alicia Vikander’s character Ava from Ex Machina. Right?

Curious. And curiouser, in that the title appears to be in 3D—so if anyone happens to be browsing a book store whilst wearing their anaglyph glasses, Speak is sure to speak to them, I suppose.

Orbit haven’t yet declared a date for the release of Speak, but “this summer” ends in August, and a little birdie tells me Hall’s novel will be upon us well before then.

Let me leave you with the lede:

She cannot run. She cannot walk. She cannot even blink.

As her batteries run down for the final time, all she can do is speak.

Will you listen?

I will. Will you?

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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