Sosnowski (Happy Doomsday, 2018, etc.) channels his inner Asimov with a quirky story about two young hackers who attempt to create a fully conscious artificial intelligence—with unforeseen consequences.
Pandora Lynch is a 16-year-old who lives with her father in Fairbanks, Alaska. A self-taught hacker, her only real friend is her paternal grandmother, a World War II codebreaker who's battling dementia in an assisted living facility. George Jedson is a street-smart homeless kid and computer wunderkind who is offered a job at a San Francisco–based social media giant after hacking into the CEO’s luxury vehicle. When Pandora’s father—an online therapist for the company—begins counseling George, the two young people eventually cross paths online and immediately connect “like quantum particles that had become entangled.” Pandora, who has watched her grandmother’s essence slowly deteriorate, wonders if cybernetic immortality is indeed possible, and together the duo create Buzz, a baby artificial intelligence that they hope will eventually attain consciousness. Fans of Sosnowski’s previous works will find his sardonic wit and social commentary an obvious strength in this narrative (a particular gun in a gruesome meme racks up more likes than “they’d seen since white polo shirts and tiki torches showed up half-price at Big Lots”). Additionally, the novel explores (albeit superficially) a variety of potentially intriguing ideas and issues, including the looming singularity, the dystopic potential of social media dependence, and humans' corruption of reality. Ultimately though, the overall storyline feels directionless, lacking immediacy and any real emotional intensity. Although some central characters are authentic and identifiable—Pandora’s grandmother steals the show—George is two-dimensional, a forgettable cardboard character who has almost no internal arc. The biggest disappointment, however, is the conclusion, which, while contemplative, has very little thematic impact.
Although conceptually tantalizing, this novel never delivers the goods.