Jabali’s (UNLV’s Rebel Yell, 2011, etc.) stirring sci-fi novel presents a protagonist who thinks he’s incapable of comprehending human emotions—until he makes friends with a young girl named Alice.
As the brilliant, insane Dr. Vincent Divol draws close to death, he puts the finishing touches on Android 13V, whose sole purpose is to rescue and protect his great-granddaughter, 12-year-old Alice. It’s not an easy task, as the android must navigate the dangers of a post-apocalyptic dystopia ruled by bands of violent gangs to save Alice from a brothel, and he then must carry her safely through a landscape littered with mutants, hostile gang members and radiation-withered forests to get to Dr. Divol’s old estate. Armed with superhuman computing powers (and the ability to kill almost instantly), Android 13V is well-suited to the rescue mission. But he finds it much more challenging to take care of Alice’s educational, physical and emotional needs after they arrive at the mansion. In spite of his computational brilliance, the logical android is predictably unable to understand Alice’s seemingly irrational desires to celebrate holidays and spare the lives of hostile civilians asking for water. The relationship that develops between them—she calls him “Andy”—soon proves beneficial for both of them; Alice gains some of Andy’s wisdom, and Andy develops an unlikely emotional affinity for the girl entrusted to his care. Alice’s doe-eyed innocence and devotion to her dolls may strike readers as unconvincing in a young woman who once lived in a violent brothel, and her inability to understand Andy’s elevated vocabulary is overplayed in a series of dull, one-sided conversations. However, their blossoming friendship lends the novel a much-needed touch of humanity. The novel provides intriguing contrasts: Cold, computational logic conflicts with human volatility, and the preciousness of Alice and Andy’s friendship is countered by gritty narrations of fast-paced violence. The result is a satisfyingly balanced novel that will likely leave genre fans hungering for more.
A tender yet action-packed sci-fi novel.