SmartYellow by J.A. Christy (book review).

September 2, 2015 | By | Reply More

This is speculative fiction with a hint of Science Fiction to help provide the environment. The title ‘SmartYellow’ refers to a genetic marker which is being used to tag low level criminals and undesirables who unwittingly reside within enclosures. Although it may be speculative fiction, it has got its roots in the current world which makes it very believable. This might disturb or unsettle some people.


The main unfortunate character is Katrina Williams who is a single mother. She was unlucky enough to get photographed by the police in the vicinity of a riot and gets labelled as one of the rioters. As the jails are full with serious criminals, low level offenders are invariably sent to one of the enclosures. The thing is, the enclosures are to the uninitiated eye just rundown council estates. There’s nothing obvious to distinguish them as enclosures but the people on them don’t often travel beyond their boundaries.

One moment, Katrina was an intelligent university student studying sociology and doing very well and the next, due to a one-night stand at a student party, her world falls apart. Firstly, she doesn’t know the father’s name and all his friends won’t tell her. Secondly, she’s caught up in the local riots and deemed to be an undesirable. Her parents throw her out and she ends up on Hill Farm Estate in a dingy apartment, where she falls foul of the local gang. They basically rob her of everything and every Thursday they take her meagre benefits money, too. When they take her baby’s pram, Katrina decides that there’s no future for her and her baby on the estate and walks into the local police station.

It’s at the police station that Katrina meets the mysterious Geraldine Scott, who says she’s a police psychologist. Scott provides Katrina with an opportunity to go back to the estate but to work for her as undercover surveillance. She will be paid, protected and what’s more she will get to keep Amy, her baby. As part of this, she pretends to be Rob’s girlfriend and moves in with him although, in reality, it’s a two bedroom apartments and Rob’s another one of Scott’s surveillance officers. Like Katrina, Rob was recruited by Scott after going off the rails, although he had been living on one of the estates for some time by then.

One of the main elements in this story is Katrina’s knowledge of sociology and probabilities. In particular, Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment. From Katrina’s perspective there are countless probability bubbles which all collapse leaving the dead (or living but on Hill Farm Estate it’s most likely to be dead) cat when someone actually looks at the cat. Anyway, when she does go back to Hill Farm Estate, her new abode is furnished from the belongings of an old woman who’s very recently died. Included in the items are a bundle of letters between the dead woman and a colleague she worked with. As it turns out, the letters are between two of the creators of the social experiment that gave rise to the enclosures.

The original experiment was the public believed closed down by the government. In reality, it continued and was expanded as a means of containing petty criminals, misfits and undesirables to specific areas known as enclosures. Their TV content is controlled as is their internet access. Some drugs are readily available, as is alcohol. This is all designed to keep the inhabitants peaceful and content so they don’t have the need or desire to wander outside of the prescribed area. There’s also the SmartYellow gene marker which causes the residents to glow a bright yellow when exposed to fluorescent light. Things start to unravel when the estates criminal boss Sean Coltrane stumbles across knowledge of the SmartYellow marker.

When I say things start to unravel, I mean this on two points. Firstly, for Geraldine Scott and her undercover surveillance operation and, secondly, for the story itself. Up to this point not very much has happened other than Katrina becoming aware of what is really going on. Rob has a few brushes with the top villain Coltrane as he attempts to infiltrate the gang, which provide for some excitement, but that’s about it. After becoming aware of the YellowMarker, Coltrane plans a national day of rioting. But from a story perspective, things peter out once Katrina makes other people aware of what is really going on. Rob dwindles from being one of the main characters to just another background character. He’s the only one, apart from Katrina, we get the first person perspective from and for him to fade away so completely reduces the interest level. At the end, Katrina has to make a choice between two possibilities but these choices are nothing to do with the bigger picture and, if her character had had a bit more backbone, she would have reacted differently.

The story is 278 pages long in the review copy but the letters between the experiments creators are included in their entirety as an appendix and there is a few adverts for other Elsewhen books which it up to 322 pages. ‘SmartYellow’ has a lot going for it in terms of the ideas of social control which will make you think about where the country is going but its let down by the last chapter.

Andy Whitaker

September 2015

(pub: Elsewhen Press. 322 pages ebook. Price: £ 2.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-908168-78-8

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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About AndyWhitaker

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties.

My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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