Imaginative, intelligent vision of a future in which the machines we build take an unusual interest in us even as we seek to exploit them further.
Dystopian fiction thrives on taking present facts and trends and extrapolating them into the future, making the bad even worse. Mason (The Lost Books of the Odyssey, 2010) fully honors this genre convention. Are the ice caps melting? Fine: a century or so from now, let’s put New York underwater, make an archipelago of San Francisco, a glittering city of towers that is “remote, incorruptible, a place outside of time.” Is inequality rising? Then we’ll have a world in which the rich live entirely apart from the poor, who in turn inhabit Rio-style favelas in the hell that is Los Angeles—and most of the rest of the world, for that matter. In this future, AI algorithms are almost ready to emerge into full consciousness, and when they do, humans won’t much matter. Enter Irina, an intermediary with an implanted memory who can interpret bots to humans and vice versa. Her employer, a super-tycoon named Cromwell, wants nothing more than to live forever, though he is already “approaching the limit of what life extension can do.” AI might be of help there, though even the wealthiest and most capable of Mason’s characters—including a Brazilian heir to a fortune and a brilliant though bent-toward-bad intellectual—are having trouble figuring out why the avatars and disembodied voices of the machines are misbehaving so. Cromwell also wants what’s inside Irina’s brain, which she has to put to good use escaping the many traps he lays for her, helped along by a growing insurrection among the have-nots. Parts of the book are overwritten, and the many threads of the storyline show a bare patch here and there, but in the main, Mason’s story makes a fine ode to freedom of thought and being in an oppressive time.
A richly rewarding blend of noir thriller and sci-fi in the best tradition of Dick, Stephenson, and Delany.