I was excited to buy Ghost in the Machine after reading the description of the story and some of the early reviews as there’s a part of me that really thrills to what I perceive to be the adventure and interesting, peculiar tech of steam punk.
There is another novel with a very similar title, The Ghost in the Machine, written by Arthur Koestler, and published in 1967. It’s essentially about the mind-body connection from a philosophical psychology perspective and I was curious to see if S.J. Davis’ book would mirror this idea. There are actually many other novels with this title.
From the outset, Ghost in the Machine is an action-packed, steam punk, time-travel mystery. Davis intertwines settings between Victorian England 1865 and a future time 2134 when developments in the Victorian time come to have negative outcomes in the future. It is about the chrononauts of the future travelling into the past to alter actions that were the inception of the despotic control mechanism of OmniCorp.
Davis’ characters are very believable regular people that embark on an amazing adventure. Caroline and Josephine are very good foils as one is of higher social standing and concerned with keeping her fashionable hat in perfect order while Josephine is an intelligent tutor; however, they both come together in that they like to get down to brass tacks. Bodhi, Josephine’s foster brother, is a clock repairman and inventor. The story expertly weaves the reader in and out from the events in 1865 and the lives of Yeshua and Nico who are determined to escape the control of OmniCorp in 2134.
The reader is swept through a Victorian London replete with dirigibles, gas lighting, and mechanized fighting robots, to 2134 where everyone is on the ‘feed’ and micro-chipped. We find the characters moving between past and future and visiting each other’s timelines, and eventually, the timelines becoming mixed up.
Davis addresses many issues including determinism versus free will, the conundrum of time travel and how changing things in the past can change the future, and many difficult social issues of both time periods.
I found the novel had a dark undertone in that there is a focus on the lower aspects of life. The reader is made fully aware of London’s gin houses, prostitution and different sexual practices (Madame Francesca and her brothel are an important element of the book), many aspects of the drug culture, cutting, and the stench and filth of London’s streets as well as OmniCorp’s off-grid back streets. While these elements are without doubt a part of life, I found this focus somewhat depressing after a while.
There are also numerous typos throughout the book, and some words are missing.
The ending however is quite amazing. And I learned something very curious; that a certain emerald green dye used in wallpapers and clothing in the 1800s was very toxic, causing early death (no longer used).