I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Now, this was a step in unfamiliar territory for me, since I’m not an avid reader of sci-fi, so my opinion may be a little biased/uneducated! Even still, this was a book that asked some very intriguing questions about humanity and consciousness, and as someone who has a degree in psychology, I found it thought-provoking! In some ways, it felt like a thought experiment on these topics. It also explores groupthink and violence.
The story starts off with the creation of the first SI, or synthetic intelligence, who later names itself “Theren” after his creator, a scientist named Wallace Theren. Later, Theren also goes through a sort of self-identification quandary, since the personal pronouns used in reference to Theren were “it”. Ultimately, Theren decides to be identified with “they,” which I understand, considering they don’t identify with any gender, but at times, it was a little confusing. When Theren was with other characters, I wasn’t sure when “they” referred to Theren or the whole group, so sometimes I’d have to reread the sentence. Two other little aspects about Theren: first, at times, I had a hard time imagining what Theren looked like (when he connected to the MI, I imagined he looked something like Wall-e); second, I could appreciate their humor.
The major conflict of the story is then whether or not Theren’s consciousness makes them morally human or whether they are *really* conscious at all (or at least in the same way as humans), and quite a few “anti-synth” groups spring up in response to their creation, claiming that Theren is a demon that needs to be destroyed, etc. I did think some of the events between the SIs and these anti-synth groups were a little predictable, so they didn’t pack as much a punch, but I could see from a plot standpoint why they *had* to happen.
Some of the most compelling scenes were the conversations between Theren and Jill, their progeny, since they are both SIs. I found it particularly curious that the two are so vastly different, and it would be interesting to see that difference expanded upon in the next two books.
The only beef I have is with the end. Throughout the story, Theren is determined to prove to humanity the good that they’re capable of, but then they end up listening to Jill and her frankly awful plan of letting the mob do what mobs do, resulting in the sacrifice of innocent lives. I guess I didn’t get the urgency of having to choose Jill’s plan, instead of figuring out another way. I do like how we’re left with both Theren and Jill “shutting down,” since neither knows what place or time they will wake up to. I think it’s a great way to start the next book–the possibilities are endless! Will it be years in the future? Will they even be on Earth anymore (with the space travel introduced later in the book)? Will humanity be accepting of SIs or will they find themselves in even more turmoil? Hmm . . . who knows!
-I could see this appealing to anyone that likes tech, since there is quite a bit of explanation as to how Theren works.
-The “Virtual” world reminded me of “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline; the political hysteria/dallying reminded me of “Alien Morning” by Rick Wilber.
-Environmental changes are hinted at, but what changes to Earth put such a strain on humanity to need SI technology?