In this sci-fi tale, the destiny of mankind is drastically altered after new technology allows the copying of human minds into robotic chassis—and ultimately, the resulting beings must save the last Homo sapiens.
Snyder’s debut saga opens in 2014 with Graham Gordon, a Canadian youth, reading a Popular Science article about new advances in interfacing animal brains with computers. Later, the adult Graham does robotic research as scientists in a ruthlessly ambitious China and in a corporate-corrupted United States race to develop artificial, humanoid soldiers. He figures out how to copy human minds (with all their useful job skills, experiences, and interpersonal nuance) into software, but instead of creating marching automaton armies, a Sino-American cooperative effort mass-manufactures a nicer breed of robots with the ability to think. These durable, tireless, guileless “Machines” go on to replace the human labor force entirely. However, “Malaise,” a fatal torpor typified by suicide and addiction, levels humanity. The ultrasensible Machines have personalities, opinions, and quirks—all cut and pasted from real people—but they lack the incentive for evil. So, as mankind languishes on the edge of extinction, Machines conclude that it’s only fair to rescue their inventors. Leading the effort is Keisha, a Machine copied from long-dead novelist Amelia Dixon; Bill Weinberg, copied from Dixon’s money-manager husband; and other roboticized VIPs from an earlier era. The style of this seven century–spanning chronicle of robotic evolution (and human devolution), told largely in anecdotal fashion, sometimes verges on reportage. At times, it recalls Isaac Asimov’s iconic, linked short story cycle I, Robot (1950), although nobody mentions “positronic brains” here. Snyder’s story indulges in the utopian speculation of early sci-fi works, as the wise, verbose Machines implement programs for restoring “biological” civilization to its glory, while also sidestepping its socio-economic pitfalls and pathologies. This optimistic novel does lack the slam-bang robot action of a Terminator movie, but the Machines make charming company as they engage in lengthy discussions about how and why biological culture went buggy—and about ways to put it right.
An unusually rosy, if rather talky, take on the relationship between humans and robots.