Preston’s (White Fire, 2013, etc.) third Wyman Ford adventure sends the investigator chasing after Dorothy, who happens to be an element of artificial intelligence gone rogue.
NASA plans to send a probe to an ocean on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Since the distance precludes instant communication, the Kraken Project employs artificial intelligence—code named Dorothy—to cope with unforeseen occurrences. Dr. Melissa Shepherd, wild child–turned–NASA computer nerd, codes Dorothy into AI. During testing, the probe (and Dorothy) are immersed in a liquid methane tank. Dorothy autonomously responds to a perceived threat and causes a fatal accident. In the chaos, Dorothy, 2 gigabytes of code, escapes into the Internet and soon begins communicating with Shepherd. Dorothy is angry, vengeful, frightened and, finally, "incomplete. Unfastened. Floating." In the formulaic chase-scenario plot, Dorothy evolves from threat to victim, becoming the target of the Feds, who’d like to weaponize her, and a psychopathic Wall Street market manipulator whose ambition is to control the stock market. From Page 1, it’s never-take-a-breath action, believable enough given Preston’s interpretation of AI’s mimicking and acting on emotions without having emotions—until Dorothy develops a conscience. New readers get no back story on hero Ford, who plays only a small role. Shepherd’s double-smart, double-tough girl genius characterization is solid, and the Wall Street raider is fleshed out into a worthy villain. Preston does his best characterization with his layman’s interpretation of AI by slipping into Dorothy’s head for random chapters. As she moves from the savage ground of virtual-reality gaming to locations as exotic as the U.S. president’s pacemaker, Dorothy grows from chip-logic dualistic choices into humane wisdom, becoming a sympathetic character.
Something like E.T. roaming the Internet to save the world, complete with an empathetic kid on a bicycle.