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Book Review: Who

whoI always get nervous when I get a request to review a novel. My usual MO is to read a book, and review it if I like it, so that others can get the same pleasure out of the novel as I did.

When it’s in reverse, and someone asks me to read a specific book and review it, my neuroses kick in. What if I hate it? What if the author is someone I like? What if it’s a friend or a family member, and I have to do a negative review, because the work sucks? What if it’s boring? What if it’s badly written? What if…

When Karen A. Wyle sent me a blurb about her new book “Who,” and asked if I would review it, I was intrigued by the description.

Death is no longer the end. Those who prepare, and can afford it, may have their memories and personalities digitally preserved. The digitally stored population can interact with the world of the living, remaining part of their loved ones’ lives. They can even vote.

But digital information has its vulnerabilities.

After the young and vital Thea dies and is stored, her devoted husband Max starts to wonder about changes in her preoccupations and politics. Are they simply the result of the new company she keeps? Or has she been altered without her knowledge and against her will?

But I was nervous at the same time, for the very reasons I described above. What if I hated it?

I needn’t have worried. I couldn’t put the book down. It was intelligently written, engrossing, and not at all what I expected.

I’m a fan of novels that explore what happens after we die. I’ve written at least one short story on the subject – something way too dark and depressing to share with readers right now.

One of my favorite episodes of the series “Black Mirror” involves a woman who loses her husband, who is subsequently “resurrected” by a service through the use of his extensive social media presence.  He is not real, and he is not meant to be. He’s merely an echo digitally created for her to communicate with – an echo she uses to keep the memory of her husband alive in the virtual world. Eventually, the service provides a body using synthetic flesh that is almost identical to her deceased husband. The robot isn’t real. It cannot be. He’s a digital echo comprised of all the information he stored about himself online.

In “Westworld” – one of my current favorite television series – the idea of androids gaining consciousness of the world around them is explored.

In the movie “AI: Artificial Intelligence” the story of Pinocchio is retold through robots who are capable of experiencing emotions and learning to be human.

The ideas in “Who” are not new, but Karen delves deeper into those ideas and explores what can happen when power-hungry humans get a hold of technology that can store human consciousness in digital form. At the same time she explores the digitized “humans” themselves and probes the idea of the human being – his essence, his conscience, and what makes the human being… well… human.

The bright side: Loved ones can continue to interact and be together in every form but the physical after the corporeal body has died.

The bad news: Like any technology, it can and will be abused for those seeking power and profit.

The “stored” dead people live in a digital world. Their consciousnesses downloaded – recorded and digitally preserved. They can interact with their loved ones and with one another. They can continue to create, work, and enjoy hobbies in their digital existence. They can get politically involved and eventually gain the right to vote.

Just imagine how this technology can be abused by power-hungry entities – both corporate and political!

Information stored is information that can be altered.

Personalities stored can be altered – changed to hold political views convenient to those in control – without the knowledge or consent of those to whom these personality traits ostensibly belong.

Can you imagine what an unscrupulous corporation – or politician – can do with that kind of power?

Could they create an army of voters who would form a solid voting block to push legislation through? Would the “stored” – altered to vote in a particular manner – eventually outnumber living voters and usher in a new era of government control and power, as designed by those who seek it?

And what about individual rights? Do the “stored” still have them, even though they’re digital entities “living” inside someone’s servers?

Are they human? What makes them human? What kind of protections do they enjoy under the Constitution?

These are all complex themes.

Karen is an attorney, and she obviously understands the law so well, that she is able to apply it to the characters she created and weave a tense courtroom drama that explores these issues – humanity, civil rights, digital technology, consciousness, conscience, and individuality.

She makes the legal dilemmas entwined in these very real issues readable and interesting without spewing lawyerese or preaching to the reader about right and wrong.

She simply tells a story, and she tells it well.

I’ve read plenty of authors who do nothing more than produce a thinly-veiled vehicle for their political views, with cardboard characters and a crappy plot. They lecture the reader endlessly about political ideals, and produce so much badly written dreck that does little more than allow them to vent in written form.

Karen A. Wyle does none of that. She seamlessly creates a complex world in the near future that is fraught with intricate and elaborate moral dilemmas and uses her knowledge of the law to weave an intelligent, suspenseful, and engrossing story!

It’s the holiday season, so grab and enjoy! This one’s a keeper!

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11 responses

  1. This is interesting. Androids learn self-awareness. Star Trek Classic: What Are Little Girls Made Of: Nurse Chapel goes in search of her lost boyfriend Dr. Korby and finds that he’s downloaded his memories into a computer and turned himself into an android. The android Korby is quite sure that he is the real Dr. Korby, but in the end, finds that he can ONLY compute math and solve chemistry problems.
    The androids/robots always think they’re the real thing, superior in every way to Humans, you know. Okay, they can play a mean game of chess and probably beat Spock at 3-D chess, too, but in the end, they are still machines with no real initiative, no complex hormones, no instincts – just walking programs. There must be tons of ways to tell this story without repetition.

    And those creepy four-leggers than the Army is experimenting with? I really want to take a baseball bat to them.

    BUT – and this does matter — since ‘what if’ is the basis for all speculative fiction, what if someone discovers how to make organic robots out of us, for the sole purpose of driving us, Homo Sapiens, to extinction so that Someone’s species can occupy this Universe instead of Us?

    We are, after all, quite imperfect. Machines do not like the Imperfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “One of my favorite episodes of the series “Black Mirror” involves a woman who loses her husband, who is subsequently “resurrected” by a service through the use of his extensive social media presence. ”

    Of all the mediums I’ve watched, I’ve found Battlestar Galactica (particularly “Caprica”) really good at capturing this. It made me think for years afterwards, and made me question what really makes us “human”.

    If I was interested in you critiquing a book, is there a place I could send it?

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    1. I have the same question, Nicki. If I want you to review a novel, how do I contact you about it?

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      1. OK, I’ll email both you and Skywalker with a couple of things. Is the address you have listed (the one I can see, but no one else can that you use to comment here) the best one for you?

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    2. OK, I’ll email both you and Sara with a couple of things. Is the address you have listed the best one for you?

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      1. Yep, the email address is the best one

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      2. Yes, it is. I’m underway with three separate project, one of which is a sequel to another novel. I’m having loads of fun with this. I will look for your e-mail.

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    3. Now that I think about it Vanilla Sky also raised some interesting questions about preservation of self and consciousness…although a lot of people pan that movie for some reason.

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  3. Peter F Hamilton explores some if this idea of being able to download your consciousness when it’s time to die. but he also explores the idea of creating clones and then re-uploading yourself into it. And of course his books also feature “rejuvenation” that makes you effectively immortal, as well as the ability to store your memories so that if you’re killed you can simply have a clone activated, your memories uploaded into it, and thus just a minor inconvenience of “bodyloss” for a couple of days.

    He weaves it all into a pretty compelling narrative. I quite enjoy his work. Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained comprise the 2-book series I’m specifically referencing here.

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  4. Nicki, as soon I had read your post, I HAD to get the book, so Amazon has received even more of my bank account. I have been an avid reader of Sci-Fi since I first learned to read, and from your review, “WHO” seems like a book that is one that the best Sci-Fi can be, something that made you to really thought about and have a good story that makes you don’t want to lay it down when to takes you to a new plane. Thank you for the tip about it. Sara, as I was at Amazon(who can just get one new book ?) I ordered a couple of your books and of John Ringo’s. I really feel like it will be like Christmas presents coming to me soon. :- D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, that’s GREAT! I hope you love it!

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