Dystopian novels serve a very important and specific purpose for society. They paint a picture of what could happen if things continue in a particular direction, and warn us away from it. In the case of The Big Smoke by Nathan Srith, the warning refers to what could happen when social media and charisma go too far, when ideals get mixed with ideology, and when power is within one’s grasp.
1. Thoughts on the plot
Generally speaking, having a dictatorial leader who rules by fear and force or by charisma alone is not an uncommon feature in political-based dystopian novels. This one is unique in that it features a female dictator and also the role of social media. This lends a few interesting points to the escape from her rule. And the fact that this novel focuses also on both the rise to power and the subsequent escape by our main character, Nick, allows for a greater range of events than the simple “escape” sequence, including discussion of the role of politics and social media.
2. Thoughts on the main character
Overall, I like Nick. He’s a guy with ideals and principles. He may have a firm belief on how the world should be, but he is also flexible enough to listen to other opinions (namely his sister) and adapt to the changing environment. He’s battling his demons and his role in the new world of the Independent State of England (what used to be London). This makes him a good character, a decent hero, and an interesting main character to follow. I do have one problem with him, though; he only fought back against his role after his sister was captured. Every other horrible thing that happened up to then he acknowledged as bad, but he only seemed to break away after his sister was captured. This makes it hard for me to like him for his strong principles, because he seemed able to ignore them prior to the start of the novel.
3. Favourite part
The ability to find food in a completely looted city.
My main critique for this book is plausibility. Dystopian novels are usually a bit implausible, simply because they take problems and move them into the extreme. However, there has to be a certain amount of believability, or the whole point of dystopian novels being used to warn society becomes moot. In this case, the ability of The Boss to take over the British government and then subsequently wall off London, support a rebellion and continue her rule is highly implausible for a couple of reasons. One: the dissolution of government. The British government system can be dissolved by means of what is essentially a vote of no confidence by the PM or the other parties. Or, the monarchy can call of the same thing, depending on the circumstances. Barring that, an election must be held every five years. So the Boss remaining in power after such horrid events seems highly improbable. Two: the walling off of London into an independent state. As London is the capital of England, and a cultural and economical mecca, it would not be allowed to fall into the hands of a rebel people or party. The military would step in. And, even if they did manage to keep the military out initially, there is no way that the rest of the world (which is supposedly continuing on as normal) would allow a dictatorial state to appear in the midst of one of the larger powers of the Western world.
Everything else with the book is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can suspend disbelief of the initial premise. Unfortunately for me, that premise is difficult to ignore.
Overall, I would say that this book has all the proper hallmarks of a dystopian novel. The politics, the warning, the world falling to pieces, even our hero’s disillusionment. As long as the problems with the process of how this world came to be can be overlooked, then this novel is perfectly fine. For me, though, this reads too much like a Snake Pliskin movie. I would say that it is FAIR to GOOD.