A Terrifying Future
by Sylvain Neuvel
“When faced with a choice, humans almost invariably seek a no-action, no-change option, even when one of the presented alternatives is quantifiably and logically more advantageous.”―
Sylvain Neuvel, The Test
Britain, the not-too-distant future.
Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.
He wants his family to belong.
Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.
When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.
How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?
What starts as a simple citizen’s Test evolves into terror in The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. I am a new reader of Neuvel. Many readers know him from his Themis File trilogy that combines science fiction with political intrigue. The Test similarly asks philosophical and political questions about the nature of choice while set within a dystopian. I knew nothing about the story when I picked it up. But I had seen Neuvel’s name pop up quite often on must-read lists, and I am a fan of philosophical dystopia books. I like books that ask “why,” and question the nature of things.
The Test gave me all that in spades. It has been a week since I have read it, and I am still thinking about it. Which, for me, means that it was a successful story.
“Family has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Every people.”
The main plot is about an immigrant named Idri taking the British Citizenship test at some unspecified point in the future. His answers quite literally will determine the fate of Idir, his wife, and children. If he fails, his entire family will immediately be put on a plane and shipped back to their home country. The citizenship test has “twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.” Idir must dazzle his judges; he must have the correct disposition, intelligence, work ethic, and personality to fit into Britain. He needs to be considered a worthy citizen by the grading authorities.
I am not going into the plot any more than that. The Test is one of those books that will give the whole thing away by me, giving away any small detail. At 100 pages, there is no room for spoilers. The story gives you a scenario that demonstrates what morality looks like and the idea of choice. Do we have free will as individuals, or are our choices just a collection of everyday actions to stimuli? Who defines what is right and what is wrong?
Neuvel does a fantastic job of giving us a relatable story, sympathetic characters, and a frankly terrifying scenario for Idir. Neuvel’s writing is crisp and stark, but he still manages to give us rich characters and blistering morally questionable situations in a novella-length story.
“People who talk a lot about the environment are always the ones living the farthest away from nature.”
This story is a must-read; however, I won’t lie and say that it is a pleasant story. It isn’t, but it is a story that will stick with you and have you philosophically questioning things. If you enjoyed the tv show Black Mirror, or books where technology and morality collide, this would be a good fit for you.
Check Out My Other Reviews
Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter