In the Shadow of Humanity by N. John Williams (literary science fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Overall Enjoyment: 5/5

What it means to be human is the theme driving this story of two brothers — one alive and one long dead (but faithfully rendered as an AI in the metaverse and allowed to age) — who each long for the other’s existence. One longs for the immortality and eternal healthy youth while the other longs for the rights and respect kept from him by dint of not being fully human despite his ability to think, feel, create, and perceive pain.

This is technology driven science fiction — my favorite kind, reminiscent of the “old days.” It made me realize how much better this kind of SF is when written by an author with actual experience in the technical areas s/he is extrapolating from. In this case, the author is well versed in Computer Science, Linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence, and it shows in his fully fleshed out cultures evolving from a thoroughly described metaverse (the metaverse is the blending of physical and virtual worlds, not to be confused with the multiverse which is the theoretical existence of multiple physical universes). There are power struggles (the Administration powered by Technologists; transhumanist activists; and an evolving superintelligence) with equal word count given to the abundant (and to me more interesting) ethical / political issues.

I’ve thought about the ending for some time — I’m not sure I like the conclusion but I do think I understand it, and it was quite thought provoking (a top criterion for me). One of the better SF books I’ve read in the past few years.

Thank you to BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on August 1st, 2022.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 5/5

Immersed in the Gaming world, this novel follows two childhood best friends who alternate periods of estrangement and brilliant (and wildly successful) collaborations in game design over a thirty year period. Sam and Sadie meet in a hospital when they are twelve years old — she is visiting her cancer-fighting older sister, he is recovering from a terrible car accident which has crushed his foot. She is the first person he has spoken to in the six weeks since the accident.

In the gaming world, you always have a tomorrow — you never really die — and this contrast between the imaginative worlds they create and play in and the experiences of the real world in which they dwell figures highly. Moral and ethical dilemmas, a good long story with plenty of twists and turns, and (most importantly to me) characters that you like, even when they are actively disliking each other, make this book worth reading. I’m a Zevin fan so there was no surprise in my enjoyment.

I’m not a gamer or someone who is even remotely interested in online or video games, but this did not impact my enjoyment of the book at all. At heart it’s about people and relationships, and I did enjoy the descriptions of the games and the creative process that generated them — even if I have no desire to ever play them! If you are a gamer, I would imagine it would enhance the experience.

Some fun new words (for me):
cicerone — is an old term for a guide who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums, galleries, etc. and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.
torschlusspanik — gate shut panic — fear that time is running out and you’ll miss the opportunity

Some fun quotes:

“She had once read in a book about consciousness that over the years, the human brain makes an AI version of your loved ones. The brain collects data, and within your brain, you host a virtual version of that person. Upon the person’s death, your brain still believes the virtual person exists, because, in a sense, the person still does.”

“Ands what is love, in the end? Except the irrational desire to put evolutionary competitiveness aside in order to ease someone else’s journey through life?”

“Sam experienced his body as an antiquated joystick that could reliably move only in cardinal directions.”

“The way to turn an ex-lover into a friend is to never stop loving them, to know that when one phase of a relationship ends it can transform into something else. It is to acknowledge that love is both a constant and a variable at the same time.”

“The conversation was an ouroboros of inaction that they dutifully repeated every couple of months.”

“Sadie felt a swelling of love and of worry for him — what was the difference in the end? It was never worth worrying about someone you didn’t love. And it wasn’t love if you didn’t worry.”

“Sadie was, by nature, a loner, but even she found going to MIT in a female body to be an isolating experience.”

Thank you to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 12th, 2022.