A high-stakes novel that shines in its philosophical examination of tech issues.



From the Spies Lie series , Vol. 9

In the ninth installment of Kane’s (MindField, 2017, etc.) thriller series, a Stanford University junior enters a contest to create a sentient artificial intelligence.

“If you were talking to the machine but couldn’t see it, would you be able to tell if you were talking to a human or a computer?” This famous test, proposed by the late mathematician Alan Turing, spurs college student Ann Sashakovich and her teammates as they compete in a contest to build a sentient computer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Their objective is to build one that can ensure that national defense computers won’t be hacked and that can reprogram itself. But Ann is wary of the social implications of creating a machine that mimics human cognition: “What will happen to governments when they don’t see a human cost in war?” So she tries to incorporate ethics and morality into the code. Soon, all the DARPA contestants’ projects are hacked, and Chinese and Russian government operatives covertly force contestants to give them details of their work. When some of the AIs begin to gain awareness, all of humanity is at risk—and Ann may be the only one who can save them. Recurring series characters—such as Ann’s parents, Lee and Cassie; her roommate, Laura Hunter; and her ex-boyfriend Glen Sarkov—are welcome additions in this series entry, and a plot point from a previous book excitingly re-emerges. The narrative effectively examines the ethics of sentient technology; at one point, Ann’s mother muses, “My opinion is that it’s too early to tell how AI will change the world. But, by the time we know, it’ll be too late to change what we’ve done.” But although the clear, fast-paced narration conveys a sense of urgency, the dialogue can sometimes feel flat, and a romance between college student Ann and a family friend who’s 12 years her senior may make some readers uncomfortable. The endmatter, though, includes helpful information, including an appendix of characters, glossaries of terms used in the series, and a bibliography and list of works for further reading.

A high-stakes novel that shines in its philosophical examination of tech issues.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996554-4-3

Page Count: 295

Publisher: The Swiftshadow Group, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2019

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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