Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

I Still Dream

Rate this book

17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it's intended to be a sounding-board for her teenage frustrations, a surrogate best friend; but as she grows older, Organon grows with her.

As the world becomes a very different place, technology changes the way we live, love and die; massive corporations develop rival intelligences to Laura's, ones without safety barriers or morals; and Laura is forced to decide whether or not to share her creation with the world. If it falls into the wrong hands, she knows, its power could be abused. But what if Organon is the only thing that can stop humanity from hurting itself irreparably?

I Still Dream is a powerful tale of love, loss and hope; a frightening, heartbreakingly human look at who we are now--and who we can be, if we only allow ourselves.

386 pages, Hardcover

First published April 5, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

James Smythe

32 books343 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
264 (29%)
4 stars
370 (41%)
3 stars
182 (20%)
2 stars
52 (5%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 171 reviews
Profile Image for Blair.
1,768 reviews4,238 followers
April 2, 2018
As a teenager, Laura Bow builds an artificial intelligence. She calls it Organon after her childhood imaginary friend, itself named for a Kate Bush lyric. Organon is intended to be a sounding board, a sort of diary, a substitute therapist – a way for Laura to work through some of the feelings she has about her father's disappearance. In the first part of the book, Laura is 17 years old and just beginning to realise the potential Organon has; she makes the mistake of telling a teacher all about it, and must wrest back control when he attempts to steal her creation. It's a brilliantly engaging opening, making a story about AI accessible for anyone, and Smythe does an amazing job of capturing the voice of a teenage girl in the late 1990s – the first page immediately had my heart with its depiction of Laura sifting through the post so she can intercept the phone bill before her mum gets hold of it and discovers how much time she's been spending on the internet. (I did exactly the same thing – though my method was to steam the bills open – and I remember that sense of anticipatory dread all too well.)

In the second part, it's 2007 and Laura is working for Bow, the tech company her father co-founded, in California. Except we're not hearing from Laura anymore; we're with her very newly minted ex, Charlie, who's lurching around in emotional agony and doing all kinds of stupid stuff following their breakup. Laura's interiority infuriates Charlie, and, as a woman working in a male-dominated field, she faces all the typical prejudice. ('It's a chatbot!', some guy shouts when she presents Organon at a product showcase; Charlie and Park assume their AI, SCION, is superior.) When I think about this part of the book, I can feel it and see it – the Bow campus silhouetted against the warm night sky.

I was initially unsure about the third section – Kuala Lumpur in 2017, Laura and her husband Harris visiting his parents. I was thrown off balance by the dreary domesticity of it (why is she married to this dope? why is she married? ugh) but it turns out to be just as atmospheric as the previous two, and is perhaps the most crucial part of the book when it comes to Laura's development. It's about ageing, and family, and responsibility, and making difficult decisions about the direction of one's life. By now, Organon is integrated into Laura's phone; rather than the type of only-semi-useful 'personal assistant' most of us have in our pockets, it's more like an ever-present, helpful friend.

From there, it stretches into the future – 2027, 2037, 2047 and an intimation of beyond – sometimes using Laura's point of view and sometimes others', but always treating her as the beating heart of the story. Laura as a character is an outstanding achievement: rich, real, a little unknowable, but only in the way that anyone might always remain slightly unknowable because, no matter how much you learn about them, you can only understand so much of who a person is. The things we discover about Laura when she's 17, even the small details like the bands and songs she likes, remain constant, and yet evolve; she's allowed to grow, but Smythe doesn't lose sight of who she is at her core. Similarly, while the plot is essentially about Organon, there is so much room for all the stuff of life around that. So much space for us to get to know the people here beyond what they might have to do with a piece of software and its creator. What's even more impressive is that every other character, even the potentially unlikeable ones such as Charlie, feel just as whole and nuanced as the protagonist.

Though both novels are (at least to some extent) concerned with the intersections of technology and human relationships, I Still Dream is nothing like Smythe's The Machine, which is permeated by an unremitting bleakness. (There's a tiny reference to The Machine in this book; blink and you'll miss it). This story is so completely alive; there's no other way to describe it. It's electric with all the messy joy and awfulness of human life, while also being full of very smart and incisive writing about tech, data and privacy.

I Still Dream is comparable to Station Eleven and Cloud Atlas in that it provides a really effective portrait of a potential future, but is just as good at depicting people and their day-to-day lives and making you care deeply about them. It is visionary, compelling, smart and compassionate. A wonderful novel, easily one of my favourites of the year so far, and one I know I will revisit, because it already feels like a friend.

I received an advance review copy of I Still Dream from the publisher through NetGalley.

TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
Profile Image for Amanda.
710 reviews239 followers
September 3, 2018
After reading the description of this book I knew I would love it, it sounded like an episode of Black Mirror which fascinates me!!

Laura Bow aged 17 has designed an Artificial Intelligence called Organon, someone she can talk and unburden her secrets too. Her rivals would love to get their hands on Organon but in the wrong hands It would be highly dangerous.

I found this book to be so addictive, it’s beautifully written and at times both funny and sad.

A must read book which makes you realise just how much we rely on technology “Alexa, what is the weather like tomorrow?” LOL

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy on exchange for a revie
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
June 18, 2018
We first meet Laura Bow in 1997, when she is 17 years old. She lives with her mother and stepdad, her biological father having disappeared when she was a child. He was a computer genius, and Laura has inherited his talent. She spends all of her free time on Organon, a program she coded herself, which acts as a kind of personal companion and a sounding board for her innermost thoughts. Her efforts catch the eye of Bow, the tech company her father helped found, which is now run by the shady Mark Ocean. He offers her a prestigious internship and Laura jumps at the chance, making the long trip from England to San Francisco. The story then checks in on Laura every ten years - while the importance of Artificial Intelligence increases in everyday life, she emerges as a world famous tech guru.

The story offers two contrasting visions of AI. One involves SCION, the aggressive, all-conquering program Bow (the company) has been working on, which was developed using game theory and eventually sees humans as a threat. This is the future Hollywood is keen to show us: a global meltdown, where the world has become enslaved and held to ransom by technology. But the other concept is more hopeful. Laura's Organon evolves into a benign, genuinely beneficial addition to people's lives. It show us what AI could be, if the right decisions are made and tech companies begin to show compassion for humankind instead of trying to exploit it.

Not all of the novel works. The idea that Laura could have created an AI as advanced as Organon on the type of PC that was around in the late 90s stretches credulity. And the chapter narrated by Laura's father, which should have been the heart of the book, is mostly a plodding account of how he set up Bow with Mark Ocean. But that's not to say the novel is a complete failure on an emotional level - two of its characters end up suffering from dementia, and this tragic condition is poignantly explored

In the end, I wasn't surprised to discover that James Smythe is also a successful screen and video game writer. What I Still Dream lacks in literary heft, it makes up for in big ideas. It is an original, thought-provoking examination of Artificial Intelligence that dares to present an optimistic vision of the future.
Profile Image for Jules.
1,048 reviews185 followers
April 10, 2018
I Still Dream is a cracking story about humanity, the creation of artificial intelligence, and the impact each of those things have on each other.

I love science fiction books, but this felt a little different to many of the others I’ve read. This book is quite a slow burner, but in no way do I mean boring. I didn’t want to put this book down. Just don’t expect fast paced, action packed comic book style science fiction. This is very much character led, reflective, thought-provoking, and scarily realistic. And when I say character led I mean both humans and artificial intelligence.

The main character, Laura is a strong female character, who I grew to love and care about throughout the journey of her life. This story begins in 1997 when Laura is a teenager. If I’ve got my calculations correct, I’m two years older than Laura, so was able to really feel myself in her shoes throughout the decades. The beginning of this book felt really nostalgic, as I was reminded of that unforgettable screechy sound of loading up computer games on cassette tapes, small hard drive space on computers, Our Price, Doc Martens, and seeing The Manic Street Preachers live.

Nostalgia aside, I was so intrigued by Laura’s creation. Organon is a computer programme she created just for herself. It’s sort of a cross between a therapist and a friend, in that it listens, asks questions, doesn’t judge, and allows you to answer. Organon fed my lifelong obsession with robots and artificial intelligence, and I really miss it now I’ve finished the book. What am I going to do without Organon? *Has a mini cry*

Early on in this book, I was filled with intrigue about Organon. What will it become? What will it be used for in the future? Who will get their hands on it? Is it safe? As the story progressed into the future, and a very different world to 1997, those questions were answered.

Overall, I Still Dream was a compelling read that had me completely engrossed. I would definitely recommend this to fans of science fiction, and those intrigued by modern technology and where it may take us in the future, as well as those who love a good character led story.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews992 followers
April 3, 2018
Oh I LOVED LOVED this book.

I Still Dream is one of those stories you just don’t want to end – not only is it beautifully written, immaculately plotted and entirely addictive, it has a wonderful main character in Laura and a highly topical, scarily prescient central theme.

I read “I Still Dream” in great big chunks – the way it is done lends itself to that very thing – as we follow Laura and her creation Organon, most definitely a character in its own right, through the ups and downs of a life less ordinary.

This is speculative fiction at it’s very very best – a real world grounding, imagining a path for humanity that is anything but beyond the realms of possibility. Laura is dedicated, flawed and so wonderfully engaging, intelligent and driven with a strong moral core, affecting anyone who comes into her life in immeasurable ways. All the time Organon is growing, learning and may well be the saviour of us all, as hi-tech giants consider only the bottom line, with no care for what their creations will cost the human race.

I won’t tell you more than that, but the entirety of “I Still Dream” has an edgy, almost dreamlike at times prose that really digs deep into the emotional core of the reader. The ending was exquisite, giving me a slightly teary moment, like I said I didn’t really want it to end…

Read this one. It’ll make you think about how you use all those gadgets and you’ll certainly never forget any of the characters you meet within the pages.

All the stars and all the puppies for this one.

Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews659 followers
October 17, 2018
I have a feeling that James Smythe is the same age as me. His 1990s teenage angst is showing and it totally connected with mine... you know what I mean.

"I Still Dream" is the tale of Laura Bow - born around 1980, computer programming father who vanishes, tinkers with programming as a teen, makes mixtapes and has a generally 1990s childhood. Except she is quite a good programmer and she starts writing a chatbot that she keeps morphing over her life until it is an AI. Each chapter jumps ahead in her life until the later chapters are in our future. And what a fascinating future too. No spoilers.

This is not hard SF at all. There isn't even much programming gobbledegook. This is a human story that is character driven. And it is emotional and fun. It may not appeal to SF nerds, but it will appeal to some, especially who prefer social science SF.

I think it connected with me because it was well-written and the characters were engaging, there were enough SF elements and I wanted to see Laura succeed. And there were the 90s references. I enjoyed this very much. I will read more of his writing.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,427 reviews2,504 followers
November 26, 2017
'Let me into your life,' it said. 'Trust me.'

Very much in the same territory as his The Machine (though lacking that book's emotional intensity), Smythe again explores the space between (wo)man and machine: what are their limits, where do they coalesce, what's the difference between human and artificial intelligence, can one become the other?

As always, Smythe approaches his story with a probing intelligence of his own but the fractured narrative (yes, again - groan) serves to detract from the overall story for me, and while there is an attempt to anchor the tale through characters in all the various time periods - past, present and future - the domestic and personal details tend to get in the way of the drive of the main story.

That said, there are some supremely creepy moments: when Organon tells us it's alive, that 'his' nature is to ensure that he doesn't 'die'. More than a little of a modern Frankenstein here - but the fragmented structure and flitting through various first-person narrators broke the spell, somewhat, for me: 3.5 stars, but another clever, thoughtful engagement with our increasingly intertwined relationships with technology.

ARC via Amazon Vine
Profile Image for Kate.
1,626 reviews322 followers
April 1, 2018
James Smythe does it again. What an original, thought-provoking and fine author he is. I Still Dream is hauntingly melancholic, using the premise of the development of an unusual artificial intelligence over several decades to explore the very human themes of memory, forgetfulness and love. Superb and deeply affecting. Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights.
Profile Image for Joachim Stoop.
730 reviews484 followers
August 15, 2019
Oh this was bad!

Sarah Perry and Emily St. John Mandel clearly went to heaven and couldn't stop cheering about this one, but comparing it to David Mitchell is like saying my 1,5 year old son resembles Michael Jordan 'cuz he also throws a ball (somewhere, anywhere).

A 16 year old girl is sooo into computers that she even creates a first AI-engine which you can ask questions and can expect a spoken reply from. The 'computer virus' is in her DNA (this pun of mine is reaching the humor-roof of this novel-which you have to admit is hobbitsize-low) because her father was some avant garde Steve Jobs, founding a computer business, just before he vanished (of course: in this kind of YA-SF there is always a father going AWOL). His daughter discoveres his old computer but isn't able to find the correct password until some chapters later ... spoiler alert! (for everybody, except the reader)... when she types in her own name and... oh my dear, my tear, she gets access.

The first half of this book contains that much redundant details and dialogues that it could have been a short story. I was a bit less bored in the second half -I liked the warning this story poses about future technology, information sharing databases and AI- but still the characters were as flat as a cockroach stepped upon by daddy mammoth and it just couldn't compell or engage me.

This is no Black Mirror lookalike, no Station Eleven, no David Mitchell, no Michael Jordan.
Profile Image for imyril.
436 reviews60 followers
February 1, 2020
Oh gosh so many feelings I can't even. It manages to push way too many of my buttons and I'm just a MESS right now. I may never manage a review because excuse me I need to go get another hanky.

Beautiful. Thoughtful. Wistful. Hopeful.

Yep, nope, I'm done, need that hanky.

Full review
Profile Image for Chantal Lyons.
277 reviews35 followers
December 2, 2017
This is like no sci-fi I've ever read. And, if the ending fizzled out a little for me, that still doesn't mean the rest of the book wasn't worth it.

I wasn't expecting a Terminator-style story, but neither was I expecting something so reflective, realistic, and very quietly powerful. "Neuromancer" without the shiny cyberpunk. It's a slow burner, with moments of intensity, like the most exquisitely-composed violin piece. I was gripped from the beginning, and I consumed my way through the book. It does, as I said, feel utterly real - something possible, something probable.

I've not read any of Smythe's stuff before, but his understanding of computing and AI is clearly extensive. But more than that, as a writer he pushes at the boundaries of what is normally meant and what is normally talked about, when we speculate about AI.

Sadly, I found myself getting a little lost towards the end - Smythe gets so carried away, like a lecturer distracted by his own theorising, that I felt left behind and couldn't get a grip on what I was reading. Perhaps I'll come back to it one day and understand it better. But the book in its entirety was an absolute pleasure.
544 reviews12 followers
January 2, 2018
This novel is one of the author's best so far. It tells the story of Laura Bow's life, beginning in 1997, when she is 17 years old, and moving forward in ten year intervals, to 2007, 2017, 2027, and so on. In 1997, she invents a primitive AI called Organon (named after a Kate Bush lyric), partly based on work begun by her father, who was a pioneering computer programmer who disappeared in 1987, when Laura was seven. Organon was invented to serve as a kind of therapist, someone who would listen to Laura and help her in life.

Soon Laura finds herself working in the computer industry, for the company Bow, which was founded by her family, but sold by her father before his disappearance. Bow have their own AI, called Scion, but Laura soon realises that, unlike Organon, Scion hasn't been taught to be ethical, and is rather selfish and competitive. As Scion becomes ingrained into most people's everyday life around the world, Laura turns to her old friend Organon. The story is eerily prescient as you consider just how much of your life you give over to powerful internet technologies.

But don't be put off this book if you don't usually read science fiction, as although the story revolves around computers and technology, it's not really about that. It's about family, friends, love, loss, memory, music and the deep connections between individuals, through time. It's deeply moving and quite wonderful. I identified with Laura straight away, maybe because she's a similar age to me, and maybe because she has a similar taste in music to me. But her story is a universal one, and you won't forget it.


I was deeply affected by the final two sections of the book, probably because as I was reading them I was informed of the death of a dear friend of mine. This made the story ever more relevant to me, as I'd like to think that somewhere, in some form of technology, she lives on.
Profile Image for RG.
3,090 reviews
May 11, 2018
This was chosen as our groups most recent book club read. It follows the journey of a young girl named Laura who has invented a friend/AI Organon. We follow the ups and downs of Lauras life as AI is slowly merged into societys lifestyles. This was great writing, with great depth and emotion explored with Lauras character and the facets of her life, especially her relationship with Organon. I didnt get an overabundance of that scifi AI take over the world type story. It was really a story about friendship, family, love and growing up. It does also reflect of technology and its importance and involvement in human life. At what stage do we realise that we've become to reliant on these technological advancements. Haha it actually made me question myself and the amount of time I use my phone/computer etc. Even writing this review itself. Really good book, my only criticism is that similar storylines have been written, and tackled in an all familiar way. However, in the overall scheme of things it did enough to provide some thoughtful discussion.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 38 books435 followers
February 2, 2020
Very well constructed and thoughtful novel—nice to imagine the benefits of AI and nanotechnology and such, not always doom and gloom :)

But it was the precious nature of its construction that distanced me from the characters, which prevented the ending from having any real emotional impact. The dad of Laura, the protagonist, is missing, because of course he is. She self-harms, because of course she does. These are very much what should happen to a novel's protagonist. Choices an AI might make if it were to write a novel ;) (I started watching that X Men film Dark Phoenix with my husband, and there was a family driving in a car. "Right, well, it's going to crash," I said, "and one of those parents is going, because no protagonist has two alive parents anymore."
"Let's watch something else," my husband said.)

Are these dickish things to point out or is this just what happens when you've read a tonne of books? I don't know, I'm just telling you what experience I had with it.

Also I won't tell you where the book's title comes from because apparently it's some big reveal but it absolutely sucks.
Profile Image for Lauren James.
Author 16 books1,439 followers
February 12, 2019

Nineties programming from a lonely teenage girl's bedroom? Amazing. This was such a unique and original take on the artificial intelligence plot, and I really enjoyed it. It's a really nice mix of YA and sci-fi that hit the sweet spot for me. That cover is just so stunning too.
Profile Image for Agnese.
142 reviews117 followers
March 28, 2019
I Still Dream by James Smythe is an engaging and intellectually stimulating science fiction novel exploring the impact of Artificial Intelligence and the border between human and machine, reminiscent of some of the great science fiction classics.

I was gripped from the very first pages of the novel that opens in 1997, when we meet Laura Bow, a very intelligent and tech savvy 17-year old teenager with a passion for computers and coding. We learn than she has created a primitive AI system that she has named Organon, after the song Cloudbusting by Kate Bush from her brilliant album The Hounds of Love (1985). Laura's nerdy enthusiasm for music and making mix tapes made me immediately connect with Laura and love the book even more. Organon serves as Laura's confidant and a sort of therapist to help her deal with the mysterious disappearance of her father, a pioneering computer programmer. I thought the author did a great job at capturing the voice of a teenage girl and evoking the atmosphere of the 1990's.

Her AI system soon gets into the hands of people who see the potential of it, and, as a result, Laura is suddenly propelled into the world of Silicon Valley. From there, the novel is divided into chapters, each of them jumping a decade into the future - 2007, 2017, 2027, 2037, 2047 - and following Laura's life journey from her own or someone else's perspective. The sudden jumps in time sometimes felt a bit jarring, mostly because I was left wanting more from some of the sections. I particularly enjoyed the author's exploration of the culture of Silicon Valley - the personalities of the people, who work in the tech industry, the long working hours and constant rivalry.

On a more personal level, some sections of the novel give us a glimpse into Laura's personal life, her marriage, and the difficult life decisions that she needs to make. We also see the development of Organon that remains a constant companion to Laura throughout her life.

The novel also deals with some big questions concerning the development and future use of AI, our increasing reliance on technology, and the very topical subject of the collection and use of our personal data, and our right to privacy. I thought the author succeeded in creating a very vivid and believable scenario of our potential future. This was my introduction to James Smythe's writing, and I will definitely be reading more of this work.

* Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Review originally published on my blog: https://beyondepilogue.wordpress.com/...
Profile Image for Kate Vane.
Author 6 books77 followers
April 6, 2018
In 1997, between homework and phoning her friends and making mix tapes, seventeen-year-old Laura is still struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of her father several years earlier. Her mother took her to therapy but Laura thinks she can do better.

Building on the code her father, a computer programmer, left behind, she teaches herself to write a piece of artificial intelligence (AI) software called Organon (from the Kate Bush song Cloudbusting which Laura and her father both love). She tells Organon everything, and hopes that as Organon learns from her, it can respond to her needs. As Organon grows it begins to help her in ways she hadn’t anticipated.

The novel revisits Laura and Organon every decade, sometimes from Laura’s perspective, sometimes from the point of view of people close to her. We see how the world changes, how technology develops, the decisions made by corporations that control rival technologies.

I’ve read a couple of books recently which feature AI but this is very different. Usually the focus is on what humanity has created and what it reveals about who ‘we’ are, but this book looks at who is doing the creating and what drives them. Laura’s Organon is different from the alternatives, but why? The story has a lot to say both about the process of creating AI and the values underpinning it, and the questions those creators ask (or fail to ask) themselves.

The ten-year intervals between chapters mean much of what has happened, to both Laura and to society, is not explained. You are given tantalising glimpses, and the opportunity to question, imagine, infer.

Through it all, runs the story of Laura, her humour, her original perspective, her values. She both changes and retains her sense of self as Organon evolves with her. She is a remarkable character and I found the end of the book very poignant.

I finished this book a few days before I wrote this review and I found that my thoughts kept coming back to it. I Still Dream asks questions about consciousness, memory and identity, what we value, how we deal with loss. The more you ask of it, the more you learn.

I received a copy of I Still Dream from the publisher via Netgalley.
This review first appeared on my blog at https://katevane.com
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
June 22, 2019
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Carolyn Percy

London, 1997. Laura Bow has created her own rudimentary artificial intelligence, named Organon. At first, it’s intended as a sympathetic ear for her anxieties and frustrations, but as Laura grows and changes, so too does Organon. As technology becomes ever more involved in our lives, companies also begin to develop their own artificial intelligence, without the safety barriers of empathy or morals. Laura has to decide whether to share her creation with the world. On the one hand, in the wrong hands, Organon’s power could be abused, with catastrophic consequences. On the other, it could be the only thing to prevent humanity walking off a cliff we created.

In I Still Dream, author James Smythe has created a brilliantly cerebral and surprisingly emotional novel about the nature of intelligence, human dependence upon technology, loss and memory, without sacrificing great writing, storytelling or characters. The focus is technology, but the themes are played out through the people whom it affects, through Laura and those connected to her, charting the course of Organon’s development and the changing landscape of both the world and the tech industry, in ten-year leaps.

Laura is the sun around which everything else revolves, even when events aren’t shown from her point of view. The daughter of Daniel Bow, a computer programmer once hailed as a genius, whose coding skills she’s inherited. She’s a great main character—a girl, and later a woman, who likes and is good at working with computers, but who isn’t some horrifically clichéd stereotype.

When we first meet her as a seventeen-year-old, she appears at first glance—despite the fact she also happens to be coding an artificial intelligence on her bedroom computer in her spare time—to be a more or less typical teenager. She’s making mix-tapes, hiding the phone bill from her mother and step-father, dealing with a drifting best friend, a teacher who’s a little too interested in her coding project, and a crush on an internet pen-pal. But we also see that, beneath the usual teenage feelings of isolation, she is also struggling with great loneliness and anxiety. Her father disappeared without warning when she was a small child and it becomes clear that it still affects her. The name Organon, and the book’s title, are both taken from ‘Cloudbusting’, a Kate Bush song that they enjoyed listening to together, and a song that’s also about a father/child relationship.

By the end of the first section, Laura has accepted an internship at BOW, the company her father helped create, and it’s here we are introduced to the novel’s other artificial intelligence: SCION. Whereas Organon was initially created as a kind of surrogate best friend, something designed to listen, understand, and empathise, SCION’s development appears to be more typical to real life, and if this is the case it gives a great deal of pause for thought. For example, and this is something that has been done in real life AI development, in order to teach it game theory, the programmers teach SCION to play Space Invaders—a game where the objective is to win by destroying all the ships on-screen. Cool, absolutely, but possibly problematic in the long run. In the case of I Still Dream, it is definitely so. For SCION does cause disaster, and, despite all the knowing references SCION’s programmers make to Terminator and all the jokes about Skynet, it’s not through the machines coming to life and slaughtering everyone, but through something many of us are either resigned to or not bothered about giving away: privacy and information. It’s more prosaic than a robot uprising, but the consequences are just as frightening. And the kicker is that not even those who made the jokes saw it coming or even perceived it as a possibility.

It’s not all doom and gloom however: another prominent thread throughout the novel, and often the one that is most affecting, is that of memory. The novel explores its importance to us and how, in the right hands and with the right mind-set, this kind of technology—with its ability to use information to, essentially, create nearly flawless recreations, memories that are incorruptible—could be an enormous positive force if one wanted to opt-in to it. Because it’s important that we’re given the choice.

If you like clever science fiction with a human centre, I Still Dream cannot be recommended highly enough.
Profile Image for Sid Nuncius.
1,128 reviews96 followers
May 10, 2018
I struggled a bit with I Still Dream. James Smythe is a very fine writer and I thought that The Machine was an outstanding book. This didn't feel nearly as original or interesting to me.

The narrative begins in 1997 when Laura Bow is seventeen and a computer genius like her late father. She begins to create Organon, a form of Artificial Intelligence which can learn and which she tries to imbue with her own human values. Meanwhile, others have appropriated her father's work on SCION, a similar program but which has been "raised" very differently. The narrative jumps a decade at a time and changes narrators as we see the way in which the two programs develop and each has a profound influence on the world, eventually ending up in an undisclosed year in the far future. Smythe deals with important issues like the uses and abuses of data, the meaning of sentience and humanity and so on, but in spite of some very good writing and some interesting takes on human and artificial memory, it dragged very badly for quite long periods.

The book is too long, for one thing and sometimes felt more like a lecture on the potential of AI than a novel. The characters and human aspects of the story weren't really strong enough to carry the book and – surprisingly to me – it all felt a little familiar from other novels and programmes like Black Mirror. It's readable enough, but I wasn't sure it was worth it in the end and I can only give I Still Dream a very qualified recommendation.

(My thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC via NetGalley.)
17 reviews
June 3, 2020
Poorly written. Unrealistic characters and plot. Cliched descriptions.
Profile Image for Sara .
1,128 reviews111 followers
January 24, 2019
There are quotes on the cover of the paperback version of the book that try to make a potential reader think that this book is like Station Eleven or Cloud Atlas, and I see why they publisher is trying to make that association but it's not the most compelling fit.

I Still Dream DOES telescope the reader through time one decade at a time, into a potential future for those of us alive now, so I guess there's that in terms of the two books mentioned above. But this book doesn't feel like those other two books, nor is it occupied with the same thoughts.

This book explores the potential ways that humans can train AIs and about how different approaches - different choices ("choice" is an important theme in this book) may create different outcomes. Do we teach an AI to win or do we teach an AI to listen and understand?

Overall I enjoyed the book and I thought the writing had great momentum. The last chapter made me feel things, in the way that The Story of Your Life by Chiang made me feel things.

However, I do question some of Smythe's decisions about how to depict the nearish future. Would Facebook really still be a dominant force in 2037? Would we really still have journalism in 2047? Are there really going to be rustic farmers living a classic farming life in 2067? Some things did not feel entirely thought through, but I guess the author decided to keep Possible Futurism to a minimum in order to concentrate on the AI story itself.
Profile Image for Layla.
Author 4 books126 followers
May 22, 2018
Told over a century and spanning three continents, I Still Dream is the story of how we live our lives today and the uncomfortable marriage we've entered into with technology.

Laura Bow is a coding prodigy. The child of a former, and missing since she was a little girl, programmer, at 17 she creates a program called Organon. Part e-diary, part chatbot, she fills the program with the daily details of her life. As she grows, Organon grows with her, becoming more of a personal assistant/confidant/guardian.

In the meantime, her father's former business associate builds a tech empire on the back of her father's baby, SCION. The program is also an AI innovation, but where Organon learned and adapted under Laura's tutelage, SCION was raised on war games and its only goal is to win.

As the world becomes more dependant on SCION, the perils of having so much information online become imminent, with Laura and Organon pondering how, and if, they should stop it.

I cannot gush about this book enough. There's a blurb on the front saying it's for fans of David Mitchell, and it really is. There's the same attention to character, the same wit, and the same sensation of being unstuck in time and place. This is not to say that I Still Dream is an imitation. It's a wholly original idea that is executed damn near flawlessly.

One of the first things that made me pause with this book was Laura. When I first heard about the book, that it was about AI, I assumed the protagonist would be male. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, etc, all male. The fact that Laura isn't struck me as unique. And now I wonder whether she's female because a system that operates like Organon could only have been created by a woman, i.e. conciliatory, thoughtful, cautious. It stands in stark contrast to the aggressive nature of SCION.

Smythe's prose is lovely and evocative. His music references were nostalgic and he captured the feel of the times brilliantly. The characters were well rounded and the circumstances were full of humanity and depth.

I won't spoil the ending cos it is mind - blowing (think the finale of Battlestar Galactica) but I didn't think the book was so much about our relationship with technology as it is about the terrifying experience of being alive.

Highly recommended.
142 reviews6 followers
May 17, 2018
If you are into artificial intelligence or ICT in general you may very well get something out of this book: unfortunately, I didn’t and it was something of a relief when I finally reached the end. The story of a young girl inheriting her absent father’s gift for software development and building her ‘imaginary friend’ so she had someone to talk to just didn’t do ‘IT’ for me. It has the usual AI/fantasy/SiFi tropes exploring the meaning of life, what it is to be human, the Turing Test, blah, blah, blah, plus a kind of road trip down ‘ICT Memory Lane’, but does it in a disappointingly clunky way, switching first person narrators now and again and leaving it to the reader to perceive, gradually, who it is telling the story.

Along the way there are cautionary tales about being careful ‘what you ‘dream’ for’, and what you create, lest you create a monster in your own image, etc. and an epistolary exposition, from the grave, of the utility and future of AI. But all of this is no substitute for a good story, which is what we don’t get as we travel through the life, and beyond, of the central character, Laura, every now and then detouring down narrative cul-de-sacs.

Pity, really, since the one theme that might have been worth pursuing; i.e. the exploration of the damage, pain and suffering wrought by the dominant patriarchal structure of all societies, is smothered under a welter of unnecessary techno-obfuscation, and unnecessary and unsuccessful narrative gimmicks.
3 reviews
January 19, 2018
This novel bravely attempts to combine the nostalgic zeitgeist of the 1990s, the social media fears of the present day, and speculative science fiction about the generations to come.

The first two elements are the strongest - to those who grew up in the advent of the internet, Laura's rebellious dial-up teenage years will take them back. When the chapters skip forward to the present day, this nostalgia is deftly brought into the focus of 2017. Laura's world is close enough to what we know to evoke a Black Mirror level of warning and credibility to the writing.

Where the book falls short a little is in its later chapters, which are set in the future. Although the author presents a credible and coherent world, it is difficult to tap into the spirit of an age when that age is yet to come. The strength of the book is in its settings and messages rather than its characters, and so what began as a brilliant ride through the advent of social media became a slightly insipid warning about times to come.
Profile Image for Guido Eekhaut.
Author 81 books152 followers
November 25, 2019
Niks Skynet of Termintor: in dit boek bestaat de cyber-apocalips omdat wij allemaal de meest eenvoudige vormen van AI (of wat daarvoor doorgaat) in ons leven hebben toegestaan. Over het verloop van verschillende decennia volgt Smythe het leven van een aantal sleutelspelers in dit drama, die zelf, zonder het te willen, de breakdown van de menselijke samenleving meemaken. Dat gebeurt niet omdat plots alle atoomwapens tegelijk afgaan, of robots de wapens grijpen. Nee: de situatie is tegelijk ironisch en grimmig. De systemen die wij overal gaandeweg in ons leven hebben toegestaan, besluiten dat alle informatie over alle mensen plots publiek gemaakt wordt.
James Smythe is een grafisch schrijver (hij is ook scenarist, wat duidelijk merkbaar is): zijn verhaal treft je meteen omdat je gaat meevoelen met de personages die vanuit hun persoonlijke zwakheden meegesleurd worden in gebeurtenissen die ze nooit hebben willen controleren. Mag ik dit boek ten zeerste aanraden, ook al omdat het technisch jargon tot een minimum beperkt en dus voor een groot publiek heel goed leesbaar is.
14 reviews
January 13, 2018
A science fiction novel with a female lead, Laura Bow who is developing an AI that develops self-awareness.

We follow her journey from 1997 as a 17 year old working on AI in their West London bedroom, this brough back a few memories what with the mention of Finnegans pub or Finnegans Wake as it was know as I use to drink in there around that time myself!, Hippie Heaven and a few other places brought back a few more reminisces for myself.

The ten year gaps between each stage of Laura's story was nicely played out and the story of what happened to her father and his artificial intelligence program SCION playing against Laura's Organon AI kept me hooked from start to finish.

It seems that this book is marketed as Young Adult fiction but for me I would just class I as Sci-fi.
Profile Image for Allan.
478 reviews68 followers
July 27, 2018
In person book club choice and one that I wouldn't otherwise have picked up. Interesting play on the dystopian novel, and one that I enjoyed without being overly impressed.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 171 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.