A sometimes-thought-provoking, sometimes-talky and sluggish speculation on reality and human nature.

ANSWERS IN SIMULATION

A man’s anguished search for the meaning of life leads to the discovery that it’s all a computer simulation in this debut SF novel.

Vovchenko’s cosmic tale of ideas follows the adventures of Robbie, a 20-something technical writer in Seattle with no clue what he wants other than to play video games and ponder arcane subjects, from the existence of the soul to the mysteries of quantum physics. A seesaw picaresque ensues as he cycles through business careers and reversals, marries, and loses everything when his wife dies in a car crash that leaves their young son blind, deaf, and mute. Grief-stricken, Robbie decides that life is a pointless ordeal of suffering and brutality under a “sadistic God.” But then his speculative science streak kicks in and he brainstorms the notion that “this duality of light being a wave and a particle doesn’t make any sense unless the world is computer-generated.” That epiphany makes the author’s hitherto grounded and realistic narrative blast off into fantasy. Robbie wakes to find his consciousness enmeshed in a robotic body on an airless planet inhabited by other robo-humans and ruled by disembodied beings called Mitras. This is the real world, he is informed, while humans are indeed artificial intelligence programs that live, breed, and evolve in a simulated world running on a Mitra computer. Enlightened human AIs like Robbie are occasionally “extracted” from the simulation to live robotically in the real world and help the Mitras, who are spiritual but not very smart, develop technology. It all checks out, and Robbie and fellow extractee Isaac Newton get entangled in wars between Mitra factions, the rise of an insurgent lizard god, and ethical quandaries in which the survival of the computer simulation and its billions of human AI consciousnesses hangs in the balance. In its (simulated) earthly phase, Vovchenko’s ruminative yarn is a sometimes-affecting story of a thoughtful young man trying to reconcile the practicalities of life with philosophical and moral principles. The author’s conception of the world as a computer model—the probable randomness of quantum physics is actually a computational shortcut that economizes on technical resources—is intriguing. And while his prose is sometimes awkward and needs a strong editor—“Modern poor seemed to Robbie like pussycats of the real poor of the past”—he manages flights of plangent lyricism. (“His soul was a lonely and dull star flying away from the constellations of other brighter and happier stars,” Robbie reflects during a sojourn in India.) The novel’s phantasmagorical second half is imaginative but less successful. The “real world” of the Mitras feels utterly artificial, as simplistic, contrived, and cartoonish as a computer game yet so uninvolving that Robbie flies away from the Mitra planet and spends years brooding alone in dark, empty space. The narrative often bogs down in long stretches of intellectual bloviating with dubious conclusions. (“Art is completely relative to the viewer and his ability to comprehend an art piece; what” the artist “meant by it; what associations it creates; and if a viewer can appreciate the effort and creativity which went into that art piece. Therefore, art should never be compared.”) Readers may wish Robbie would retreat back into the simulation and stop overthinking things.

A sometimes-thought-provoking, sometimes-talky and sluggish speculation on reality and human nature.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-56225-4

Page Count: 223

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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