Barricade is an interesting novel. It is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where battle still rages between the Ficials and the Reals (humans). This world is dark and grim with both sides dying exponentially, which leaves the reader with a lot of questions as to why and how this has happened. The novel follows a Ficial called Kentsibec, a taxi driver in this new world who is given a mission to drive a fare between the barricades of Edinburgh to London.
What is a Ficial? It is an artificial being created to serve the people of the United Kingdom in their lives and Kentsibec was originally optimised for construction. They do not have emotions and due to the existence of nanos in their bloodstream they have enhanced endurance and durability, allowing full healing from most injuries. This leads us to the question: How are the Ficials made? Are they cloned or bred from cells?
As previously mentioned, this novel is set in the United Kingdom but it is one that is almost unrecognisable. The major cities are held by the Ficials and they have built the Barricades to keep out the Reals. Their last instruction from Control before nuclear war commenced was to cull the Reals as this would save the world. There is not a lot of information given about what is happening to the rest of the world but there is an understanding that it is even worse there.
I liked structure to Barricade, where it begins first in the past, when Kentsibec is still owned by a human. He is asked the question “Are you on our side?” This is interesting as while Kentsibec has thoughts at this time he does not act independently, he always does as he is told, either by his owner or by Control. The narrative then moves forward to the present and the main story where we follow Kentsibec in his new function as a taxi driver, preparing to pick up a fare and start the long and dangerous drive to London. Each chapter ends with a flashback to the past, showing the world leading up to the cull and I found this really useful as it showed how the UK ended up in the state it currently is.
Ficials are built on rationality and logical thought but this doesn’t mean that they do not have personality beyond their function – they do, but it is limited and more of a functional progression following the end of Real society. Can Ficials grow and learn? This is a question that should be asked throughout the book as while a Ficial can seem human in some ways, in others they are far beyond.
We meet a number of Ficials and Reals throughout the story, all of whom are dealing with their own issues, living as they do in a post nuclear world. The Reals appear to be worse off due to the nuclear fallout and new diseases that are slowly eradicating the survivors. The main Real that Kentsibec has to deal with is never actually given a name, he is instead known simply by the nickname “Fatty”. He is an interesting character and clearly shows that humanity’s need to survive can be an overpowering drive. Fatty is a foil to Kentsibec’s calmness in the face of adversity, he is always raging at the injustices and fulfilling the Ficials prejudices against Reals. His behaviour raises the question of whether human unpredictability is a weakness or strength.
I found Barricade to be a fast-paced action adventure, full of dilemmas that need to be overcome. The book left me with many questions, two of which were: Why is there always fear of the unknown? Does being logical mean you always know best? These questions not only relate to this story but also relate to the world around us.
Review by Michelle Herbert
2 positive reader review(s) for Barricade
Jon Wallace is a science fiction author based in London, England. His debut novel, "Barricade", is published on June 19 2014 from Gollancz. A review of that book can be read here.Michelle Herbert spoke with Jon a we [...]
Lee from UK
I did enjoy this book. It's not perfect, there was more than one occasion where I though 'hold on a moment, that doesn't fit right' but the overall energy of the narrative, and the detailed characterization, made this book a winner for me. As Peter's review (listed before mine) states, any who were enthralled by the robot stories of yesteryear (Asimov in particular) and also enjoy themes of dystopia will definitely enjoy this book. I would also like to second Peter's comment on the book being more subtle than the reader may initially give it credit for. It's simply a good book and I'm now on book two Steeple and enjoying it too.
Peter from UK
I chose Barricade to read because I have always fondly remember the robot stories from my youth, especially the ones which explore robots beginning to experience human emotions. I also like films such as A. I. and I, Robot which explore similar themes. So I have to admit to feeling disappointed after the first few chapters as it looked like I wasn't going to get the book I'd hoped for. But of course this is not the fault of the author and so I began to enjoy the book on its own merits and chapter by chapter I found myself enjoying it more and more until by the end I was left happy, satisfied at having finished a worthy read. Barricade is a road-trip with good characterisation (insomuch as an android can have character) and I believe it was far more subtle than I gave it credit for. The biggest compliments I can pay is that I always looked forward to reading it and finished it in only a few days. I would say that it falls more under the dystopia/speculative fiction umbrella than science fiction but readers of all three sub-genres will enjoy it. I would definitely recommend it =.
7.8/10 from 3 reviews