Post-Modern Prometheus, Sans Horror, Drama, or Challenge
DISCLAIMER: I received this title for free in exchange for an unbiased review. This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.
WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.
You remember Arnold as the Terminator. Yeah, this isn’t that. No SkyNet or robo-apocalypse, but a genuine, well thought out, non-threatening examination of benevolent Synthetic Intelligence. There are many philosophical questions the reader can drawn from the text, should they be so inclined. The data isn’t info-dumped on you, nor does the narrative pause and pretentiously ask “So, this Life thing; what’s that all about?” This is a thinking novel, no pun intended, challenging the listener to re-address what it takes to be sentient, real, human. And, it asks a bigger question; are we truly prepared to judge?
There is a solid narrative flow, engaging and captivating with surprisingly little emotion, but when it does occur the prior absence acts as a force multiplier. Shockingly little humor as well, however Tavenor’s wordcraft is so solid I didn’t notice the lack until I finished.
The audio was a little tinny and distant to my ears, but not distractingly so. Narrator Benjamin Fife’s (SoundCloud user: 29643215) other samples are neither tinny nor thin which leads me to suspect a producer asked for this particular sound effect. The story’s antagonist (based on Anonymous?) has an overly dramatic “evil voice” electronic filter. That effect got real old, real fast.
Fife gave each character a distinct voice, and a cadence and pacing that made the experience extremely listenable. There was only one repeated line. There were no obvious edits, mouth noise, or background hum. I give the narrator four stars. Four and a half if we can do fractions.
This is not noir. Despite comparisons to Blade Runner, this ain’t that. It is much too positive and upbeat. Tavenor clearly sunk a bunch of time into research and it peeks out occasionally. The view of SI is couched in rose-colored, academic glasses. Social concerns are acknowledged, but never explored in-depth. Our SI, Theren, shows very little, or any, doubt or uncertainty. There is an innocent arrogance to them, an undertone of innate superiority. They never acknowledge a mistake or miscalculation. They provide a too perfect mirror of humanity.
There’s no real personal conflict, either internally or externally, and what conflict there is consists of the extremes of gadfly trolls, abstract cultural forces, and immediately resolved misunderstandings. There is no risk to the SI that comes across as believable; no suspense, no drama, no stakes. And, tragically, no character development. I waited and waited for “Jane”, Theren’s “daughter”, to catfish a human and get caught, as she tries on her humanity. And, the end felt rushed and contrived; very much, “and, a wizard walked by.”
So, is it worth a listen? You bet! It’s a great exploration, well thought out and internally consistent. It’s why I nitpicked above. If you like a science with hard edge and your philosophy on what it takes to be human challenged, this is the book for you.