The Ark presents a form of fiction that while not rare, is perhaps underutilised I am talking about epistolary fiction, fiction told through letters or documents There are examples of the form stretching back six hundred odd years and smattered over all kinds of genre but if you were looking to write a novel it s not the form I d immediately choose.
Why I think it s a form that battles against the audience s expectations and experience It demands quite a clever bit of structuring from the author and the nature of its communication essentially stop start, a document is experienced as a complete thing in and of itself and has to be written as such to attain verisimilitude has the potential to break the readers flow.
Essentially it has to look and read like the real thing while delivering the same level entertainment expected of structurally easier formats.
I am, however, glad that Smith took up the challenge The Ark is a fairly big diversion from the work she s previously published and I think she s done well, very well.
In terms of story she delivers an interesting and timely scenario.
It reads like an eco survivor thriller and it is The challenges presented by the form don t seem to have hampered delivering a tense ending The beginning is perhaps slower than your normal thriller but this is necessary to build the tension and get the reader reading between the lines.
One of the advantages of the form is that we, the reader, have different perspectives presented to us We begin to create one perception of the book s reality based on the narrative explored in one set of emails, only to have that impacted or even undermined by revelations in other communications The reader is caught in a game trying to decide which character is presenting the most accurate state of affairs In that sense it s perhaps akin to a murder mystery thriller but without Hercule or Miss Marple to hold our hands.
So narratively, The Ark worked very well for me The production of the book, raised the bar further If you are going to set a story in 2041 that occurs in cyberspace, then aside from say presenting the story as an App which Smith also did you have to give the reader some small sense that they are not reading a book, you have to transcend the book to some extent I did read my version in ebook form I m not sure if there is a paperback which does a great job normally of simulating a standard paperback To break down that sense that we were reading a book though, Smith has designed the documents we read to appear as emails ie not just text with address headers , blogposts, newspaper extracts, etc Aside from verisimilitude it generates, this choice gives a literal change of scenery.
To have left the project there, would have been fine A nice terse future thriller, that makes some quiet comment on ecological issues and presents the reader with some variety in their narrative consumption Smith went further giving us an expanded interactive multimedia experience and for that you can checkout thearkbook.
The Ark is no ordinary novel, and to say I read it doesn t quite sum up the experience of this book, as it is an experience than a read.
It s written in epistolary form emails, minutes of meetings, and news articles There s also a website, thearkbook.
com, with video of inside The Ark and audio of conversations Also on the website, you can upload your fan fiction Together, the book and the website create the world of the Ark, and add a whole new dimension to its enjoyment.
The book is set in the year 2041 2043 The Ark itself is a facility set up in a bunker at the base of Mt Kosciusko to store billions of seeds under the National Arboreal Protection Facility It s where the seeds will be kept until the Earth can regenerate back to health and they can be replanted It is the only way plant life will survive The Ark ManifestoThe Ark exists to protect the seeds The seeds are protected to enhance the future of human life on earth Without our protection, the seeds cannot survive The seeds do not have higher value than the lives of those who protect them, rather the relationship is symbiotic each nurtures the other The outside world is in Chaos and twenty six people, mainly scientists and their families, have been chosen to live together inside The Ark in this top secret mission The residents are soon told by the Project Manager, Aiden Fox, that The Ark s time delay locks will be activated for their own protection, and they will be locked inside the bunker for sixty days.
Through emails and letters, whose servers have creative trade names such as Gopher and Parlez vite , the reader learns of the dispute between Aiden and the company that owns the Ark, SynBioTec SynBioTec don t support the locking of the Ark, and the reader begins to wonder what s really going on Who is right SynBioTec or Aiden Is Aiden all that he seems The book is divided into sections that concentrate on a different character I particularly liked the section on Ava, the wife of one of the scientists, who suspects early on that Aiden is dangerous, but even her husband won t believe her Aiden, of course, cares about Ava, and is deeply concerned for her mental instability he sends this Gopher to the doctor Alex, a delicate matter I m concerned about Ava s mental state I think all the pressure from Longrigg is making her a little unstable I know your wife is friendly with her I m wondering if you might plant the idea for Darya that Ava might benefit from some counselling with you Ava eventually needs time in the Vitality Compact where she is treated for a non critical, non contagious condition Gradually, people in The Ark develop a non critical, non contagious condition requiring treatment This book is a clever in its creation of a futuristic world I love the means of communication the group uses For example, minutes of meetings are taken through the voice recognition software, Articulate , which has been organising your thoughts since 2016 Not only does it decipher the words used, but also the emotions conveyed, like compassionate and regretful.
This book is a study of manipulation, power and corruption The tension builds and things inside The Ark become sinister I d liken it to George Orwell s Animal Farm.
Wool Meets Super Sad True Love Story The Year Is As Rapidly Dwindling Oil Supplies Wreak Havoc Worldwide A Team Of Scientists And Their Families Abandon Their Homes And Retreat Into A Bunker Known As The Ark, Alongside Five Billion Plant Seeds That Hold The Key To The Future Of Life On Earth But The Ark S Sanctuary Comes At A PriceWhen Their Charismatic Leader S Hidden Agenda Is Revealed It Becomes Impossible To Know Who To Trust Those Locked Out Of The Ark Become Increasingly Desperate To Enter, While Those Within Begin To Yearn For EscapeThe Ark Delves Into The Fears And Concerns Raised By The Environmental Predicament Facing The World Today, Exploring Human Nature In Desperate Times At Its Heart It Asks Can Our Moral Compass Ever Return To True North After A Period In Which Every Decision Might Be A Matter Of Life And Death And The Only Imperative Is Survival First posted on The Steadfast ReaderWhat do you get when you combine a brilliant dystopian novel with a unique, cutting edge epistolary style of storytelling Why Annabel Smith s The Ark, of course Smith takes novel writing and the technology that we have available to us for storytelling to a whole new level But let s start with the general things about the book that I loved anyway It s another well written piece of literary dystopian fiction that while quite different from St Mandel s Station Eleven, shows a similar command of the genre Smith takes an idea that could have easily fallen into the general tropes of apocalypse dystopian genre fiction and makes it literature There are deeper themes to explore, than what is just presented on the surface The epistolary format in which it s written allows for expert pacing in unfolding what exactly is going on inside and outside The Ark This book written in the usual manner would be than enough for me to have enjoyed it thoroughly and highly recommend it, but Smith s use of the e book to create an interactive experience really just puts the whole thing over the top in uniqueness If possible I would highly recommend reading this on an iPad or other such tablet device I know, it sounds like bizarre advice if not, you can still interact with the novel by visiting the website Brilliant writing, brilliant idea on taking a story to a new level.
How might Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm play out in thirty years time The Ark is a stark imagining of just such a future Instead of an island of boys or a farm of human like animals, Annabel Smith s protagonists are either locked underground or enduring world wide calamities outside The earth has been stripped of its vegetation and fossil fuels, and the underground inmates have been charged with safeguarding the seeds of all the crop producing and carbon encapsulating plants that remain Only they ve been locked inside under false pretenses, and for much longer than they originally planned And an international vegetation management company badly wants to get in The backdrop of this novel is every bit as chilling as those envisaged by Golding and Orwell, and one that may yet prove to be prophetic But the intrigues, anxieties and tragedies experienced by the characters within it are relevant to any age And they are revealed through unique narrative devices that portray a society at once hyper connected, hopelessly fractured, and desperate to secure something than just survival Annabel Smith s latest novel is an incisive and cautionary tale Highly recommended.
I received this book for my birthday from a friend who knows the author in person I only know her as a friend here on Goodreads I loved Annabel s last book Whisky Charlie Foxtrot to be released in the US as Whisky and Charlie and was really excited to read this one Aside from the fact that she lives in my neighbourhood, she s also an amazingly talented author.
A quick flick will be enough to convince any potential reader that The Ark is not an ordinary novel It s a series of memos, emails, blog posts and transcribed voice recordings that work in sequence to tell a bigger story The Ark is a secret underground facility manned by a group of scientists and their families It s purpose is to protect one of the largest seed banks in the world, which includes many species that might otherwise be extinct The facility gets sealed in 2041 to protect the seeds from the menace of The Chaos which is destroying the rest of the world The bunker community is in lockdown with no way in or out drama unfolds.
I loved this book s format and style, but found myself getting really annoyed with the character of Ava, one of the books key narrators as she communicates with her sister in the outside world This dialogue didn t feel very real to me the sisters were portrayed as being very close to each other, but Ava seemed unnaturally focussed on her own small problems and uncaring about her sister s much bigger ones I didn t think that Ava was supposed to come across as selfish, but I m not sure how else to describe someone who constantly whines about her rights to a loved one whose very life is in peril, without really giving equivalent attention to her sister s problems I assume that the author probably wanted to keep some mysery around the nature of The Chaos and therefore wanted to focus on Ava, but this was jarring to me and really impacted my enjoyment of the early sections where her voice was dominant.
However, that s where my negativity ends I thought The Ark got better and better the final third was as simply awesome I can t really say why I liked it so much without giving spoilers, but if you want to know view spoiler I loved the way that a light eventually got shone on The Ark and revealed it to be little than a cult It left me thinking about the rights and wrongs of the situation did the ends justify the means that Aiden used to maintain control I also wondered whether I would be one of the followers, or whether I d be one of the few like Ava to see him for who he was hide spoiler I purchased the book version 26 hours ago and just finished it It is a rare story that captures my attention the way The Ark has I was totally sucked in from page one Now I feel the way many might at the end of a great HBO series season finale, with a level of satisfaction regarding the outcome, and emotionally stirred up enough to be chewing on the detail for weeks and wishing for another season Also have an overwhelming desire to buy chickpeas and rice in bulk and check that the gas bottles are topped up There is so much about this story that makes it compelling reading in this age We are constantly reminded about the potential for world order to go tits up for a variety of reasons so many dumb ways to trigger an apocalypse I believe Smith provides the perfect level of detail on what is going down outside the ark, leaving our overactive imaginations to freak ourselves out I gasped audibly and had to gather my faculties regarding the quietexit If you are thinking, apocalyptic futuristic stories are not your thing, they weren t mine either.
I could go on about it for longer, but just have a read of page one and see what happens then.
The Ark is essentially an epistolary novel, with the story being told through snippets of communication like news articles, blogs, memos and emails Smith has created the various mediums with aplomb, mostly paralleling things we have today but with care to replicate the essential features for example, official corporate correspondence may be electronic but it still carries the same weight as an official letter Of particular note is the distinction between dailemail essentially the same as our email gophers direct, encrypted communication and the Headless Horseman the most secure form of communication possible It s not really specified how the Horseman differs technologically from the Gopher, but the talk around the Horseman s illegality is a nice hat tip to how governments are starting to view technologies like TOR.
The first person we really get to know is Ava, who writes to her sister on the outside The nature of the epistolary novel means we can t get directly inside anyone s head and have things explained to us, so everything has to come through these snippets Since Ava s the first we hear from in any depth, she carries the burden of explaining a lot to the reader, with her sister acting as a proxy There was one instance of the dreaded As you know which made me cringe a little, but it s mostly done very smoothly, and without giving anything away later in the chapter, absence becomes just as telling as presence.
One chapter is told from the perspective of Roscoe, the 15 year old son of The Ark s Futurologist, Mia, primarily through his blog Kaos Kronikles , and is presented in the chatspeak of 2041 he s on Twitter if you want a taste This device of trying to ape non standard English is something I very rarely like cf my review of Chuck Palahniuk s Pygmy It is massively hard to pull off in a way that is convincing and thereby add any value through verisimilitude, so it s a high risk manoeuvre and with little reward most teenagers speak like adults most of the time At best it makes even simple things take longer to parse at worst it comes across like when government anti graffiti campaigns try to be hip Smith does handle it much better than most, so in the end it doesn t grate as much as it could but Roscoe s chapter was nonetheless a low point.
While The Ark takes place against the background of the apocalypse, at its core it s less about how society deals with disaster and about how a small group of people deal with a charismatic leader who will stop at nothing to control them It s very much a timeless human story, in that sense that is where the bulk of the drama and intrigue comes from, and it really works well on that level However, the technological and futuristic level is present as well, and is particularly worth examining given the nature of the project.
The Ark is not just a book, it s also an app and a website, and it s very much sold on the idea that the two parts go hand in hand, that it s an interactive experience This is something I quite like particularly with scifi I love being able to delve into the background of the world that the author has built how the technology works, how their society differs from ours, and so on And it is good that Smith is trying to play with notions of how we consume books in the 21st century something reflected by the fact that she got a government grant to help build the app.
Nonetheless, the book does deal with issues of how omnipresent surveillance is becoming, as technology becomes and central to our lives of how large corporations are often quite amoral about the information they gather and what they do with it A central part of the plot involves people being bound to a document they either barely read or didn t read at all, having consented when their partner or parent signed it This echoes the current situation we have with the End User Licence Agreement EULA whereby people almost always click I agree without even a perfunctory glance at what they re agreeing to Not even this formality is always adhered to sometimes the EULA simply states By using this product, you agree to At the time of writing, The Ark app requires access to among other things your identity, location, photos, and the ability to make phonecalls Most of these are required so you can do the various interactive things, like uploading your own content, but it s an all or nothing prospect even if you don t want to upload anything, you still have to give the app access.
I don t suspect Smith or her team of anything underhanded here this is just the way the app making industry works in 2014 And yet many of the problems we re already seeing around privacy are caused precisely because we are so willing to give up these permissions, without a clear way of knowing exactly how they will be used or any recourse if they change in the future Much like the EULA, few people even bother reading an app s short summary before they click Accept This is a situation that will only get worse unless we start paying attention to it, but it is far from inevitable App developers, and the Apples and Googles who create the environment they work in, certainly could build apps that don t require all these extra permissions they just have no incentive to do so unless the public cares about it.
All of the information in The Ark s app is available on the website, which doesn t require any permissions unless you explicitly give them, so the privacy conscious needn t miss out but it is interesting that even a book that explores these issues is far from immune from perpetuating them.
The book opens with a passage from 2093 in which The Australian reports on The Ark s discovery by hikers, and the return of its inhabitants to society at large, decades after the story takes place The rest of the book takes place in the first few years after The Ark is sealed, so while we know that the world outside The Ark must have survived, we hear nothing about it after the first few chapters The story works perfectly well this way, and what keeps you hooked is undoubtedly what goes on inside The Ark but it would be nice to get some info at the end on what happened on the outside I read an advance copy of the book, and the app and website are still beta versions the book isn t officially launched until September 19 so maybe some of the website extras will ultimately give us some insight there.
The verdict It s the first scifi book I ve read in a while and as you can see it s certainly been a launching point for the issues it deals with Both the format and the narrative are compelling enough to keep you glommed to the screen of your eReader, and Smith does an excellent job of managing the suspense Despite a few aspects that fell flat, I really enjoyed it.
I have been lucky enough to read an advance copy of Annabel Smith s third novel, and it s such an exciting project The narrative itself deals with a small group of people who are sealed away from the outside world in a bunker under Mt Koziusko with the aim of protecting not just themselves, but a collection of millions of seeds In many ways, the premise reminded me of Hugh Howey s Wool.
This is a modern take on the epistolary novel The narrative is told through a variety of documents, emails and instant messaging, from inhabitants of The Ark What this does so well, with the variety of first person, unreliable narrators, is create a mounting sense of tension, as the reader is kept in the dark as to what is really going on inside and who they can trust What is even exciting is that the author plans to release this novel as an interactive app I have read just the text of the narrative, but it will work perfectly for digital media I recently listened to a running app which involved a post apocalyptic story written in conjunction with Margaret Atwood, and like that, The Ark is demonstrates a different way of telling stories in the digital age.
This is a clever and compelling story, and an innovative and exciting example of non traditional story telling.