A delightful, ominous, and edifying look at a menacing future.


This illustrated fictional work offers a cautionary tale that warns readers of the potential dangers of advanced artificial intelligence.

Adopting a rhyming verse, Rosenberg tells of a mysterious “he” who arrives on Earth. He’s not from another planet but born from software in this world. Using “a billion eyes and ears” and his “billion-billion thoughts,” this highly intelligent being runs power plants, factories, and farms. People certainly love the convenience, but this entity tracks everything they do and say, and their reliance on him gives him a terrifying amount of power. In the quirky book’s “closing thoughts,” the author provides his final, more explicit warnings. Switching to a less fun but still effective traditional account, he writes that creators feed AI systems data about humans. Rather than making these systems think or feel “like us,” this mass of information actually helps them predict humans’ behaviors and even influence their opinions. While people can’t suspend AI tech, there are options. Rosenberg suggests banning the commercialization of AI systems designed “to manipulate our decisions and sway our views.” In short, these systems should guide humans, not replace them. While the author’s verse is entertaining, the message is sharp and unambiguous: “He dazzled us with mental feats that left us feeling small / ‘Fear not,’ they said, we’ll use his smarts to benefit us all.” There are also subtle jabs at modern comforts like social media as well as people’s obliviousness to such things as the use of AI in advertising. Khmelevska’s imposing artwork perfectly complements Rosenberg’s writing. In the style of chalk drawings, the illustrations begin in soft grays and pastels and, as “he” slowly takes over the world, progressively turn darker. The artist’s rendition of the titular villain is equally superb, as he sports giant invasive eyes and tentaclelike cords that eventually wrap around Earth like restraints.

A delightful, ominous, and edifying look at a menacing future. (author bio, illustrator bio)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73566-850-5

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Outland Pictures

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.


Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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