In the follow-up to the dystopian Archetype, Prototype by MD Waters finishes the story of...more3.5/5. This and other reivews at EditorialEyes Book Blog. ~*~
In the follow-up to the dystopian Archetype, Prototype by MD Waters finishes the story of Emma Wade-Burke, a woman on the run in a future version of the United States where fertile women are in scare supply, surveillance is everywhere, and a band of resistance fighters is gearing up for a war against the business elite who are keeping some serious secrets. Told from Emma's first person present perspective, the Archetype had a claustrophobic quality as Emma struggled to regain her memories within the prison of the hospital she awakens in and the home she shares with her husband Declan. Book two opens after Emma has discovered the truth about herself and the sinister role the Declan has played in both her forgotten past and in society at large.
Some spoilers for Archetype are in this review, so I'm going to put the rest behind a spoiler tag.
(view spoiler)[Declan, who fell to his death and reawakened as a clone at the end of Archetype, is desperate to get Emma back. His forces have been looking for her all year. She, in turn, has come to grips with the fact that she is a clone as well, and that the woman she was cloned from is dead. She may share DNA and memories with the first Emma, but she is not the same person—or is she? On the run in search of her parents, hoping for more connection to her history and a better understanding of the Resistance her first self was an integral part of, she has shed much of her timidity from the first book. It's fun to watch her come into her own, sharing some of her first self's personality while becoming her own person.
Cornered and out of options, Emma returns to the Resistance base to take shelter with Noah, the man who was the first Emma's husband. She is met with suspicion from some Resistance members, who are sure she is spying for her current husband, their greatest enemy. And Emma has some complicated feelings for Noah, made more difficult by the fact that he and Emma have a young daughter, Adrienne—a daughter for whose birth the current Emma's consciousness was present in the former Emma's body. Confusing? Yes, but it makes for some excellent fraught emotional encounters and allows Waters to question what makes someone both an individual and a mother. Noah is a largely unlikeable character, a gruff bad boy for the sake of being a gruff bad boy, but his difficulty with his feelings for the clone of his dead wife are palpable and well written.
Waters is excellent with pacing as the current Emma learns that she's a kick-ass warrior, makes friends with people the former Emma hated, and joins a plan to take Declan and his consortium down. Her faltering relationship with the child she wants desperately to claim as her own daughter is touching, though other secondary characters and subplots are uneven. Wise mentor Peter and rival-turned-friend Leigh are fleshed out, while others never break free of their one-dimensional roles. As with Archetype, this is a very me-centric story. Everyone exists to further Emma's journey of self-discovery.
Unfortunately, Waters goes for not one but two classic YA-style love triangles. Ignoring the fertile ground to explore the science in this sci-fi world, Waters instead takes many pages for Emma to flit between her feelings for Declan, the known bad guy who claims still to love her, and Noah, who pushes her away but who is perhaps her one true love. Noah, meanwhile, is torn between Sonya, the woman he is living with and raising Adrienne with, and Emma. Where the philosophical and ethical minefield between Emma and Noah would have made for a strong romantic subplot, the story is instead awash in melodrama. These characters may be in their twenties and thirties, but the tone, Emma's narration, and the over-the-top love triangles feel like they would be better suited to characters in their teens. (You'll notice the two covers at the beginning of the post, symbolic of the book's struggle: it reads like a YA that wants to be a gritty adult dystopian novel. The cover on the left, which is much more YA in feel, was the original, while the book is now being issued with straight-ahead sci-fi image on the right.)
Still, in many ways this book is more successful than its predecessor. Emma now knows that she is a clone. Where much of the first book was about her confinement as she learns the truth about herself, this one focuses on action. We get to see a bit more world-building here, though it doesn't go far enough. Why is the United States divided, for example? What other sorts of technology beyond cloning and transporters exists? What's going on in the rest of the world? While these questions remain unanswered, the book is nonetheless a page-turner. Emma's emotional struggle with who she is to other people, who she is in relation to the past Emma, and who she is to herself, is just as engrossing as the fight scenes. (hide spoiler)]
While the book doesn't quite hit its mark as groundbreaking science fiction, it's nonetheless a quick, compelling read. Prototype is a solid action story with a thoughtful undercurrent about the meaning of humanity and individuality.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
An interesting start to a trilogy with some great concepts, but this weird fiction didn't feel weird enough. I might be disappointed by references to...moreAn interesting start to a trilogy with some great concepts, but this weird fiction didn't feel weird enough. I might be disappointed by references to Lovecraft and the placement of the book in horror lists, but this was a rather subdued read, not quite enough of a mindfuck, nor enough monsters.(less)
When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea wh...more3/5. This and other reviews at EditorialEyes Book Blog.
When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea where she is—or even who she is. And it’s only after intensive therapy and visits from her doting husband Declan that she begins to understand that she is a wife who has been through an ordeal too terrible to describe. But in MD Waters’s future dystopian debut Archetype, nothing is as it seems. This pageturner blends the amnesiac suspense of SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep with the fertility-challenged future patriarchy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a dash of Philip K. Dick’s ”We Can Remember it For you Wholesale” (the basis of the Total Recall films).
How well it manages to do so is the question. Emma is plagued with nightmares (or are they memories? Visions?) of a life that doesn’t fit the picture Declan paints for her—especially of another man she seems to have intense feelings for and a revolution in which she is a warrior. She lives in a society where too much genetic modification has caused a plague of infertility and a shortage of women in general, where girls are brought up in facilities that train them to be wives. America is in the throes of a Man in the High Castle–like war, and security cameras are pushing 1984 levels of intrusiveness. There’s a lot going on in Emma’s life, not the least of which is how she can figure out who she is, if she doesn’t remember who she used to be (and if the memories she does have don’t fit the life she sees before her).
The writing is what makes this fast-paced thriller. Through Emma’s innocent eyes (and for some reason, her inability to use contractions in sentences even though everyone around her uses them), we are able to explore the world she is mired in: the subservience of the women, the advanced nature of the biological sciences. The descriptions are vivid, and Emma’s limited point of view allows Waters to reveal the plot in tantalizing fragments. As Emma runs up against the boundaries carefully set around her by Declan and the scientist overseeing her recovery, Dr. Travista, she uncovers inconsistencies in their story. And she has a voice in her head, whom she refers to as Her, that is trying to push its own agenda. Is Emma some kind of revolutionary? And who is the strange man she is in love in this alternate life she can only remember in snatches?
While it’s clear that Declan is not all he seems, I appreciate the nuances of his love for Emma, even when that love is controlling. He’s never reduced to a one-note villain, and Emma’s complex, at times tragic feelings for him, which are complicated by the man in her dreams, are compelling. This mysterious dream man Noah is less interesting, and her dream best friend Foster isn’t a fully conceived character. The glimpses of her brutally oppressive past are some of the most interesting moments in the book, but they take a backseat to the male characters and her immediate predicament.
What is jarring here is the tone the book goes for. Emma’s voice is strong and well crafted, but with its emotional, first person present tense, very me-centric point of view, its dystopian elements, and its well-defined love triangle, this book feels extremely Young Adult. And yet Emma is 26, and she has a lot of sex with her husband throughout the book. That sex, too, is problematic. This is a woman who is told she has been brutally attacked, and who falls in love with a man who is manipulating her into his bed, and not enough time is spent exploring these knotty issues. The focus instead is on how tough it is to decide between two equally hot, equally dangerous guys. And because Emma’s point of view is so limited, we don’t get much plot beyond her immediate dilemma of who she is and what she should do next. Everything is about her, leaving the plot feeling a bit shallow. This book is reaching for a crossover audience but missing the mark: YA readers will find it absorbing because it reads like YA, but that voice, and the fact that the plot is singular and unbranching, with less time spent on worldbuilding and more on the love triangle, means this book won’t resonate as well with readers of adult thrillers or sci-fi.
Despite my issues with it, though, it’s a quick, enjoyable read that urges you on to just one more chapter, and then another. Waters does interesting things with old speculative tropes. The big reveal of Emma’s true identity isn’t that surprising, and yet, the book uses its old themes in new ways, creating a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that also poses some interesting questions about the nature of memory and the soul. Just as it’s an experiment in crossover fiction, this book is also an experiment in serial-like publication. Archetype ends on a truly excellent cliffhanger that will leave you needing more, and you only have to wait six months: its sequel Prototype will publish in July 2014.
While this isn’t as inventive and breathtaking as the advance buzz made me imagine, and while the tone was far more coming of age than hard science fiction or gritty dystopian survival, Archetype is nonetheless highly readable—and I’m most curious to see if some of my issues will be resolved when Prototype completes the story arc. (less)
2/5. For this and other reviews, check out EditorialEyes Book Blog. ~*~ In The Mad Scientist's Daughter, we are introduced to the titular daughter—the p...more2/5. For this and other reviews, check out EditorialEyes Book Blog. ~*~ In The Mad Scientist's Daughter, we are introduced to the titular daughter—the precocious and oft-moody Cat—and her tutor, Finn, who just happens to be the most lifelike robot ever created. As Cat grows up, her relationship with Finn changes in ways that challenge both her and societal norms.
The book is set in a not-too-distant future, after some unidentified troubles (which sound climate-related) have wiped out a good deal of the world's population. Scientists created robots, sentient but subservient machines that are human-shaped but not made to look like real humans otherwise. These robots helped make up the lack of workers before the human population rallied itself. Now the world is back on its feet, but sentient AIs are still around and they're raising questions of human and robot rights. Into this world comes Finn, a lifelike human replica who is intelligent and autonomous—mostly—and who is brought into Cat's home to be her father's "lab assistant." He is also the young girl's tutor, and she grows up with him as a constant presence. As she grows older, however, her feelings change, and she finds herself longing for Finn to be more than just a friend and tutor. As Cat moves on, goes to university, becomes an artist, and eventually marries a man she does not love, she and Finn engage in an illicit affair.
I wanted to so much to like this book. The premise is intriguing, a science-fiction romance promising a rich ground of ethical questions to explore: what makes a human? Does a lab-created sentience deserve the same rights as a human? Can a machine be a slave? Further, does a robot experience emotional growth and connection? Can a robot change with the people around it? How do religious groups react to AI?
Finn is the most fully realized character in the book, polite and restrained, forthright regarding what he is, yet capable of showing deep emotion—restrained emotion, but an impressive and believable range of it.
The writing is often lyrical, capturing the small wonder of a little girl catching fireflies, for example. Clarke writes artists well, describing Cat's artistic projects and the aesthetics of the world in an evocative way. The intelligent glass house that Cat's husband places her in is a beautiful metaphor that illustrates several of the book's themes. The romance, too, is intriguing. Can a human and sentient robot truly love one another? Is there a difference between the programming in a robot's circuits and in a human's mind that causes and sustains that kind of emotion?
Unfortunately, beautiful writing isn't enough to sustain the book. The Mad Scientist's Daughter fell short in its quest to answer these questions or do anything more than touch on its ambitious themes. We know people look down on robots or feel resentful of them for taking jobs away from "real" people, and we know there are robots rights groups, but the discussion never moves beyond these superficialities. We know that something massive and catastrophic has taken place on earth, and yet beyond the fact that it's too hot to go out during the day in the summer, this world that exists at some point in future is pretty much identical to our own. Cat sits in a cafe and sips lattes. She eats Japanese and Korean food. Does Japan still exist after a major global warming event? Have other geopolitical crises occurred and changed or wiped out other countries? After losing so much of the population, is it really feasible that cafes and lattes exist, and exist in exactly the same way they do now? No thought whatsoever has been put into world-building here, creating a frustratingly mundane and uninteresting view of the future. Everyone uses a "slate," which pretty much sounds like an iPad, to communicate. Everyone uses email and IM and the internet. No interesting technology, apart from Finn and his less-evolved robot cohorts, exists. It's almost as if we're looking at a serious novelization of the webcomic Questionable Content (which I quite enjoy), about a bunch of twentysomethings in a modern world that's just like ours except there are robots.
Certain elements have been added in to cause strife, but they're never explained and they don't really make sense. Apparently women's roles have been reduced, and Cat's mother who was a cyberneticist seems to have been forced to become a housewife. But Cat is encouraged to go to university and never seems in any way constrained or victimized. Have women been pushed back into this role to propagate and care for the species? It isn't clear in any way, and if this is the case, why isn't there far more discussion about gender roles? Cat's father has worked with other female scientists and we know that at least one of them has a child, so how does that fit in?
Cat is herself a frustrating character. I don't believe that you have to like and sympathize with a character, but Cat is just so deeply unlikeable. She uses Finn terribly. She uses her husband terribly. She is by turns moody, demanding, and greedy for no real reason. Because we are introduced to her when she is just a small child and are then skipped through several decades of her life, it's difficult to connect with her or understand her in a meaningful way. By trying to cover too much of Cat's life, we miss the chance to get to know who she really is, and we don't get to focus on more than moments here and there, separated by many years. It leaves the book feeling flat, rather than giving the author a chance to flesh out her main characters.
The author also doesn't take the opportunity to address a serious plot point: Finn does not change. He does not age. His thinking, it would seem, does not evolve without a software upgrade. He is exactly the same entity all through Cat's life—an entity that has known Cat since she was little more than a toddler. There's a serious creep factor there. If he were her father's friend or business associate but not a robot, and he began having sexual relations with a teenager that he remembers being barely out of diapers. . . ew. But that isn't explored here at all. The flipside, the Highlander effect as it were, is that Finn will theoretically continue to be his exact same, young-looking, unevolving self even when Cat is fifty, seventy-five, a hundred. What does that mean for Cat? For Finn?
I was so looking forward to this book, a story that promised to be a lush sci-fi romance, a book that could incorporate robots and romance, pose deep questions while also evoking deep emotions. Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake, Charles Wu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and Hannu Rajaniemi absolutely brilliant The Quantum Thief are all examples of great sci-fi that is fun while inspiring deep thought. The Mad Scientist's Daughter is ambitious but ultimately doesn't go the distance, delivering beautiful writing but failing due to weak characters, meandering plot, and poor world-building.
3/5. This and other reviews at EditorialEyes Book Blog ~*~ Seven women in seven different eras contemplate reading and art in Katie Ward’s ambitious deb...more3/5. This and other reviews at EditorialEyes Book Blog ~*~ Seven women in seven different eras contemplate reading and art in Katie Ward’s ambitious debut novel Girl Reading. Each section introduces a new story, a new set of characters and circumstances, and a new work of art that was inspired by and includes the likeness of a girl or woman reading. In doing so, Ward gets to create rich stories in different time periods while discussing the nature of art and the role of reading in women’s lives.
While called a novel, this is, in fact, much closer to a set of seven themed short stories or very short novellas. They range in place, time, and context, while maintaining a similarity of tone throughout. First is Italian master Simone Maritni using an orphaned girl as his model of Mary in his Annunciation in 1333; next a deaf woman named Esther works as a maid in the household of Dutch artist Pieter Janssens Elinga in 1668; third, a celebrated female portraitist paints a likeness of a dead poetess for her grieving lover, a Lady in British society who has fallen into despair in 1775. Next, we come to a set of twins who have chosen very different lives, one as a famous spiritual medium and one as the wife of a photographer in London in 1864; then, a girl in 1916 on the cusp of womanhood falls in love with an older artist, and finds herself embroiled in all of the adult issues and entanglements around her; and sixth is a determined young woman, who works for a British MP, has high career aspirations and a terrible boyfriend. Her picture is taken and posted on Flickr in 2008.
Each of these stories stands pretty well alone, and could be read as a short story and a meditation on art or gender roles or history. They touch upon similar themes, in particular the difficult roles women have had to play, the way they have so often been preyed upon throughout history, and the reserves of inner strength individual women can and must tap into. Most of the main characters find themselves in untenable situations that they simply must deal with and live through, from being an orphan at the whim of powerful men in Renaissance Italy to a grieving noblewoman shunned by society for being gay, to an empowered present-day woman still at the mercy of her boss and her loutish boyfriend.
The stories are ever so slightly unified by the seventh story. Set in 2060, people spend most of their times in an augmented reality called “mesh” and are no longer able to access real, physical art. An engineer named Sincerity Yabuki is showing off her invention, Sibil, a mesh simulation that shows users the stories behind works of art—in particular, six works of art that each feature a female reading. But Sincerity has a secret when it comes to Sibil, and her story calls up questions about the nature of art, of reality, and of living in an increasingly cyber-connected world.
Ward does a number of things well. Her writing style is confident and nuanced, and it’s hard to believe this project is her first book. She easily brings us to the end of one story, erases the etch-a-sketch, and deftly delivers us into a whole new world of characters and contexts. The settings are meticulously researched and constructed. Her worlds quickly engross you. Her leading ladies are accessible and sympathetic, and are never clichéd. Several stories in particular stood out for me: I was brokenhearted for Esther in “Pieter Janssens Elinga” and for Lady Maria in “Angelica Kaufmann.” The unfairness of their situations and the total lack of control they have to do anything but put one foot in front of the other—Esther far better than Maria—are beautifully written. Likewise, I was entranced by the twin sisters of “Featherstone Of Picadilly,” of their arguments about what makes a fulfilling life for a woman, and for the ultimate dilemma the two share.
I found my interest waning in the more contemporary tales, in particular Gwen’s story in “Unknown” and Jeannine’s story in “Immaterialism.” Jeannine was terribly frustrating: while I didn’t want to read about a super woman, necessarily, the story’s focus on clothing, boys, bars, babies, and working at the beck and call of powerful men in order to further her own career felt disappointing. Surely there is more to say about the modern female experience than these things? Surely we’ve come further than poor Laura Agnelli in 1333, all but given to Martini by the priest and with no say in the matter?
I was also disappointed by the heavily eurocentric bias of the overall book. With the opportunity to look at women’s roles, the nature of art, and the importance of stories and literacy, setting the first six stories in Europe, and mostly, in fact, in England, seems like such a waste to me, and feeds into the usual Western ideas of “great art” and “master artists” being only from Europe. Sure, Serenity Yabuki is of some sort of Asian background, but the world depicted in 2060 has become globalized and the focus isn’t about a particular history but about gathering together the other six stories. I would have loved to see stories from Japan or China or India, from the Tuareg or the Assinboine or the Aztec. Art doesn’t just happen in Europe.
And perhaps this is a small pet peeve, but throughout there are no quotation marks. None. I absolutely despise this convention if it occurs for no good reason. Lack of quotation marks if the entire narrative is being told campfire- or confessional-style by a character is fine. (Junot Diaz is a good example of someone who uses lack-of-quotation-marks well.) Here, there doesn’t seem to be any reason whatsoever for it, and they’re sorely missed. Dialogue is often confusing because it’s impossible to tell who is speaking, or when speech stops and narrative picks back up again. This was a really poor style choice, and unfortunately smacks of pretension.
This is a funny book for me to have read this month. I picked it up quite by accident, having stumbled across the title and immediately falling in love with the premise. I’m currently eyeball-deep in an in-depth readalong of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a series of six deeply disparate and yet subtly, intricately interwoven stories. Ward’s writing seems influenced by Mitchell’s style (he does similar things in his also brilliant Ghostwritten), but the lack of connection beyond a sort of overall theme of “reading” and “art” and “women” keeps this book from being truly great. It’s ambitious, but it’s not really a grand, sweeping novel. It’s a set of well-written short stories, not the epic that I imagine it was meant to be.
But give Katie Ward time. In spite of my criticisms, this is an impressive debut novel, with great settings and characters, and big ideas at play. I look forward to reading her second book, whenever that may be.(less)