Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: The Singularity

Author: Dino Buzzati

Publisher: NYRB Classics

Release date: 4th June 2024

The Singularity

Reviewed by: Sarah Deeming

Other details: Paper back, £14.99

The Singularity by Dino Buzzati

Sarah Deeming

Professor Ermanno Ismani is offered a two-year contract with the Ministry of Defense. What is the job? He can’t be told until he’s onsite, but he is offered a significant amount of money, and the intrigue is too much to resist. So, with his calm, accepting wife, Elisa, Ismani accepts the job and is brought to Experimental Camp Military Zone 36. At Zone 36, there is a huge grey complex with no doors or windows, so Ismani can only look at it from the outside, but when it is quiet, he is sure he can hear it talking. Finally, Ismani begins to wonder if the complex is actually a consciousness, and if it is, what is it thinking?

The Singularity is a novella originally published in 1960 and is billed as a “pioneering work of Italian science fiction”. This version is a new translation by Anne Milano Appel, who has translated lots of books. I feel it is important to mention this because while I’m raving about how much I enjoyed this story, it’s crucial to remember the original was Italian, and my version is a translation. The success of this story is the hard work of two people.

I devoured The Singularity in a day 1) because it is a novella and therefore digestible in a day and 2) because it is an intriguing story. We begin with Ismani, a quiet, unassuming university professor, getting an invitation to the Ministry of Defense. No one knows why he is invited except the colonel who sent the message, and even the colonel doesn’t know what Ismani will be doing; just that the job comes with a huge wage packet. The intrigue continues as Ismani and his wife, Elisa, travel to Zone 36 and meet other people who are going to the same place but lack information. Spending a third of the book not knowing what is going on is a bold start, but it works. Even when Ismani finds out what he is working with, a physical representation of consciousness, there are many questions. I don’t want to delve too far into the plot, as there are twists and turns that I could spoil the ending by going into detail about, so instead, I will say that the end is as strong as the start.

The plot is very current as many sci-fi books use technology to house consciousnesses; you can see how we have gone from Buzzati’s consciousness city to what we read today in current sci-fi writers. Alastair Reynolds Eversion springs to mind. It also combines the danger of human emotion with technology. As well as a warning about the dangers of AI, we also explore the impact of grief on a person. Neither part felt rushed, nor was one more important than the other; the two elements go hand in hand.

As I have already said, The Singularity’s ending is as strong as the start. It is punchy and has real danger for the characters, and it closes with a sharp ending. It was very satisfying and had a brilliant ending. Highly recommended.

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