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by Anton Hur

Pub Date: July 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9780063344488
Publisher: HarperVia

Letters from humankind and our descendants weave together a story of love, robots, and poetry.

“Poetry is different from fiction, it’s not about story, it’s about becoming someone else,” explains one of the leads in this thoughtful speculative experiment. In it, translator Hur tackles the existential questions posed in Blade Runner but finds answers (and a title) in Emily Dickinson. The novel opens on a crisis in South Africa, as researcher Mali Beeko wonders why one of her most important patients has disappeared. In this near-future, a chosen few have been rescued from early deaths by scientists who systematically replace every diseased cell in their bodies with a bioengineered healthy cell using nanites. This alone would be a cool way to ponder the Ship of Theseus, a philosophical exercise that questions the nature of identity when a person or object is replaced, but the experiment just keeps going. First, over time, the patients themselves becomes influential. Ellen Van der Merwe is a classical cellist whose terrible fate will only become clear later, while Yonghun Han is a literary researcher who uses his extra years to create an AI called Panit, or “Beloved,” as a way to stay close to his late husband. Leaning more on literary discovery than hard SF tropes, the story is extrapolated to the far future by transposing Panit into an android body, followed inevitably by a war between the evolving androids (all reproductions of Ellen) and what people remain. That’s a big idea, but the narrative here is more interested in who we are than who wins. It’s a sad story, but Hur uses its disquieting ideas to sweet effect. It’s an unfailing affirmation of the persistence of love and art, even in the face of oblivion, one that tells us “it’s the story you write that is you.”

A novel that traces humanity’s journey from what we imagine ourselves to be to what’s next.