I 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!