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Proof of Concept

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On a desperately overcrowded future Earth, crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none. Governments turn to Big Science to provide them with the dreams that will keep the masses compliant. The Needle is one such dream, an installation where the most abstruse theoretical science is being tested: science that might make human travel to a habitable exoplanet distantly feasible.

When the Needle’s director offers her underground Kir Heilsen’s people as a training base, Heilesen is thrilled to be invited to join the team, even though she knows it’s only because her brain is host to a qAI called Altair.

But Altair knows something he can’t tell.

Kir, like all humans, is programmed to ignore future dangers. Between the artificial blocks in his mind, and the blocks evolution has built into his host, how is he going to convince her the sky is falling?

176 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 11, 2017

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About the author

Gwyneth Jones

141 books103 followers
Gwyneth Jones is a writer and critic of genre fiction. She's won the Tiptree award, two World Fantasy awards, the Arthur C. Clarke award, the British Science Fiction Association short story award, the Dracula Society's Children of the Night award, the P.K.Dick award, and the SFRA Pilgrim award for lifetime achievement in sf criticism. She also writes for teenagers, usually as Ann Halam. She lives in Brighton, UK, with her husband and two cats called Ginger and Milo; curating assorted pondlife in season. She's a member of the Soil Association, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Frack Free Sussex and the Green Party; and an Amnesty International volunteer.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 60 reviews
Profile Image for Justine.
1,132 reviews309 followers
May 1, 2017
2.5 stars

One of those books I really want to like more than I actually did. I love the concept, the characters have great potential, and I like some of Jones' wordsmithing.

But...the concept was not as well explored as it could have been; the characters did not come alive and remained quite two dimensional; and the clever wordsmithing did not make up for the sort of confusing muddle of a story.

So I didn't hate it, but I could have given it a pass and not missed anything.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews183 followers
April 23, 2017
For such a short novella, Proof of Concept is packed to bursting with plot threads, thematic questions, and worldbuilding elements. The story takes place in a fascinating dystopian world where pollution and global warming have pushed the world's population into giant "hives" separated by toxic "Dead Zones" where impoverished non-citizens try to eke out their short existences. MegaCorps have a chokehold on culture and politic, and even scientific endeavor must be turned into pop-culture and seek the approval of the GAM (Global Audience Mediation AI). The issue of extreme population control is hotly contested, as is the future of the human race. The quest for hyperspatial travel is seen as humanity's last hope. To get funding, the serious scientists have partnered with the popular reality-show stars to live underground in isolation to create a proof of concept for hyperspatial travel.

The story is as packed with genre elements as it is with worldbuilding concepts: a Vernesque journey to the center of the earth, a coming-of-age story, a romance, and even a strong tang of mystery. There are so many ideas packed into this little novella; I just wish there had been a little more room for character development. The timespan of the story is so wide, the cast so large, and the worldbuilding is so broad that I think in some ways, the characterization and driving urgency of the plot got a little lost. I never got a real sense of the different characters, and while I think this contributed to the shock factor of the ending, I found it also rather unsatisfying. In particular, and quite at odds with the rest of the story, I felt that the end expected me to unquestioningly accept the author's definition of "good guys" and "bad guys" and accept that the "good guys" can do absolutely terrible things and yet remain the "good guys" by definition alone… more time spent on characterization of both the faceless antagonists and the tarnished protagonists would have helped greatly, I think.

One of the most interesting themes in the story involves Kir, a child "saved" from the Dead Zones to act as the "wetware" for an artificial superintelligence quantum computer. Is she a captive or a willing participant? Is she deluding herself when she believes the woman who cut her head open and installed an ASI inside sees her as a person rather than a tool? Is the thing who shares her head a being with its own identity or merely a sophisticated calculator, and despite the supposed firewalls, what influence does it have on her behaviour?
"You're going to put a supercomputer in my head. It's going to share my brain. Okay, I can't stop you. But what if he goes wrong and starts eating me?"

Overall, Proof of Concept is itself an interesting proof of concept for a world and idea that I think fully deserves a longer novel. If you're looking for a fascinating little novella, Proof of Concept is worth a look.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Tor.com, in exchange for my honest review.~~

Cross-posted on BookLikes.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,251 reviews630 followers
June 15, 2017
short novel that is packed with ideas and ends in a very interesting way begging more books set in the same universe; in a future earth on the verge of definitive catastrophe, the super rich want to flee it for pristine planets and the new physics ("information space") gives them a chance to do so if theoretical ideas about instantaneous translation can be put in practice; and so an experiment is funded in a deep cavern isolated from the rest of the earth; things happen though not quite as expected

while not an easy read and with lots of things crammed in (see blurb for more details), the short novel is excellent sf at the current cutting edge of the genre - especially in its social descriptions
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
722 reviews1,406 followers
July 2, 2017
2.5 stars - This was a disappointment, honestly. Rushed, didn't establish the world or characters very well, and the ending came out of left field. I think this would have worked better as a novel, as there would have been more time to establish the world and set things up so that events felt truly shocking and meaningful. As it is, I was just kinda confused and stopped caring by the halfway point.
Profile Image for Michael Hicks.
Author 35 books433 followers
Shelved as 'quit-dnf'
March 30, 2017
30% in, and I have no idea what's going on. The narrative is all over the place, the dialogue is clunky, and the story just isn't capturing me. This is a short read, but I'm giving up after two chapters. Thanks to Tor for the NetGalley ARC, but this novella just isn't for me.
Profile Image for Trike.
1,459 reviews152 followers
June 28, 2017
This review is going to have to be spoilerific so I can talk about this book.


This has an interesting idea that is poorly realized.

The global ecosystem has pretty much collapsed, so some scientists convince the ultra-wealthy One Percent to build an underground lab to test some next-gen physics that will enable humanity to travel faster than light (apparently by teleporting via quantum entanglement).

The Needle, as it's called (because something something "needle in a haystack"), is the test bed for this FTL experiment. Except we find out at the end that it's all a scam. The geriatric scientists have sold the super-rich snake oil... I think. It's hard to tell, because the writing isn't very good or very clear.

Herein lies the problem with this story: there's precious little science in the science fiction, and Jones spends so much time focusing on the POV character's feelings that when she does the big reveal at the denouement it lands with a thud. All along I suspected the leaders of the science experiment had an ulterior motive, and when Kir (our POV character) suspects that they lied about the titular Proof of Concept, it's pretty clear something shady is up, but then Jones just sort of drops it.

So I was left wondering if that was a red herring, but it's just bad writing.

Kir is among the group because she has a quantum computer named Altair in her head, and they need said computer for, I don't know, computer-y things. Since we never get to see what Altair does, there's no opportunity for misdirection.

None of the characters are fully fleshed out, so speculating about their motivations is impossible. This isn't a factor of this being a very short book, because I've seen more fully-realized characters in stories which are ten pages long. Ultimately I was left with the feeling that I was watching episode 4 and 8 of an eight-episode BBC series, having no clue what was happening.

The one really interesting idea Jones had in this book occurs at the very beginning, where the main characters are being interviewed by a holographic avatar comprised of the gestalt of social media users asking questions. Now THAT is a cool idea, which is quickly dropped as they go down into their bunker. But I really like the idea of a program which can synthesize all the input of thousands or millions of people on Twitter or Twitch and coming up with coherent questions on the fly.

We've already seen various experimental chatbots attempt this over the past couple of years, some of them with hilariously predictable results, such as when Microsoft's Twitterbot became a racist, sexist asshole (in less than a day!) based on the things it was encountering online. (Check it out: https://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11...) But ironing out the kinks of that seems like an obvious endgame and a clever way to streamline what people are saying. Too bad Jones never develops it past those first couple of pages, because the implications in other aspects of society are enormous. Newsreaders and talking heads who reflect the aggregate of online attention? How awesome and terrifying would that be?

Anyway, the book ends with the murder of Kir's boyfriend, who was secretly recording the experiment. This is seen as a big deal, but I don't know why. It seems like half the global economy is focused on the exchange of ideas and entertainment online, so why not fund the Needle by selling subscriptions to the feed? A reality TV show where the ultimate aim is to teleport an entire installation across the galaxy? Where the conflict is like the Big Brother TV series with two completely disparate groups trying to work together to save humanity?

All of this feels like a gigantic missed opportunity.

Ultimately, the sham is revealed when they call an end to the experiment after the murder and natural deaths of the elderly scientists in charge, but for some reason it takes weeks for them to reconnect to the surface. This is a built-in issue, not any sort of problem with the connections or the surface... except that there IS a problem with the surface, in that the entire world has died while they were underground.

Which was the ultimate point of the whole thing. All this talk of quantum mechanics was just bullshit to get it financed.

Which also doesn't make any sense. Surely in the future there are just as many doomsday preppers among the richest people as there are today. (Yes, that's actually a thing, have a look: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201...) Many of the world's millionaires and billionaires have built survivalist camps complete with underground safe spaces, some of them converted mines or missile silos. And these guys are doing it on the suspicion that civilization is going to collapse. In Jones' future world, most of the Earth has already been utterly ruined, with massive dead zones all over the place. Of course there would already be places like the Needle.

Maybe the folks in charge were just trying to scam the rich into funding a bunker for average people, but that's not made clear, either. I would have bought into that idea. Problem is, there aren't enough people down there for it to be a viable ongoing situation. I just don't think Jones has thought this concept through enough.

Anyway,that's the gist. Now you can skip it. Go read Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey instead. That's the better version of this idea.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,682 reviews636 followers
February 2, 2019
I’ve had this obscure novella by Gwyneth Jones on my to-read list for a few years and recently located a copy on eBay. I’m not generally a completist, but have read a good many of Jones’ novels. Her Bold as Love series is one of my favourite visions of the future: a guardedly utopian Britain in which technological civilisation has largely collapsed and government is by attractive rockstars. I highly recommend it. Her other sci-fi tends to be intellectually interesting but isn't as emotionally compelling. That certainly holds for ‘Proof of Concept’, which contains some fascinating ideas while not doing a lot to develop the narrator. The setting is an overpopulated world of environmental collapse, in which the richest 1% are funding scientific efforts at interstellar space travel. Nothing hugely original there. The specific setting of the story is far more distinctive and intriguing: a massive underground cavern, in which scientists and reality TV stars are sealed off together for a year. The purpose of this is to enable experiments on the Needle, which may allow colonisation of a distant planet. Kir, the narrator, has an AI in her brain and is trying to work out what the heck is going on. This eventually becomes clear, although the twist was not hugely surprising. I preferred the creepiness that built up to the revelation, as the atmosphere in the cavern was compellingly peculiar. Gwyneth Jones has a specific knack for evoking caves and underground tunnels; she also did so in Spirit: or, The Princess of Bois Dormant. I have no further commentary to make as, despite some excellent world-building details, ‘Proof of Concept’ wasn’t as memorable as I’d hoped.
Profile Image for Nora.
423 reviews7 followers
January 8, 2023
I believe this is the one of the lowest rated books I’ve ever read overall, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I really enjoyed Gwyneth Jones’s writing style, even if I was a bit confused at times. Some things definitely could have been explained a bit more (basically the whole concept of the Needle), but the characters interactions and Kir’s thoughts more than made up for it. Altair was an interesting concept of a character and I really liked some of the ethical debates rampant throughout the whole story. This was a really interesting novella that I didn’t quite understand, but I really enjoyed.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
292 reviews4 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
October 14, 2019
Life is too short for bad books and I stopped on page 80 of 138 when I realized I was forcing myself to pick it up. I don't think Jones spent enough time developing the world or the characters, the premise had a lot of promise but I had a hard time following the narrative or caring about anything that was happening. This might be a good pick for fans of Jones' writing style, but it didn't work for me.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
May 6, 2017
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th April 2017

I’m not sure if it’s my reading comprehension or the book at fault, but I did have some trouble understanding the technology and political background to this. There’s stuff which is obvious (overcrowding has forced people into hive-like cities, people want to go to nearby habitable planets) and then there’s the science and the politics of funding the venture and… whatever all that means.

However, on the personal level it worked: Kir’s connection with Margrethe, her difficult relationship with Bill, her half-a-relationship with the computer in her own head, Altair. The hothouse effect of the confined living space felt real, as did the consternation spreading through the group. The ending worked as well, though it felt a little rushed.

Overall, not the most effective of the Tor.com novellas, but that’s a pretty high bar to try and clear. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading.

Originally reviewed for breathesbooks.com.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
May 5, 2017
A rare miss for the tor.com novella line.

Earth is a disaster, ravaged by over-population and climate change. Humanity lives in decaying hive arcologies amid the poisoned and dying planet. A project that promises to be the first steps towards getting the masses of humanity off-planet via FTL is started deep under the Earth in an abyssal cavity and some of mankind's best and brightest are recruited, including our view-point character, a young girl with a quantum computer embedded in her brain.

Sounds awesome, right?

Instead it's a tense and largely pointless exercise in dystopic information blackouts and oppressive population control while the real action all happens off camera. It's not even fiddling while Rome burns; the main character has no idea what's really going on and by the time the reveal happens the reader (at least this reader) just doesn't care.

Don't bother.
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,717 reviews857 followers
December 2, 2022
I picked this book up during a fill-a-bag-for-$5 library sale, purely because it was a Tor.com novella. Turns out that isn’t a reliable way for choosing a new favourite. One chapter in, I instantly regretted giving this a try.

With complete honesty, I can say that I did not understand a shred of what happened in the entire 144 pages.

Trigger warnings for .

Representation: Nigerian, queer & nonbinary scs.

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Profile Image for Bridget Mckinney.
251 reviews44 followers
April 11, 2017
I found the amount of in-universe jargon used for worldbuilding was just about impenetrable. Your mileage may vary, but I prefer more actual story and less futuristic technobabble.
Profile Image for Sean Collins.
101 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2018
Tried to pack too much conceptually into a short amount of pages. It has the bones of intriguing dystopian future world building, and could even map out better visually via anthology like PKD's Electric Dreams / Black Mirror, but as a novella didn't work as well. It would be interesting to revisit as a full length novel that takes more time to effectively introduce the lingo and tech used.
Profile Image for imyril.
436 reviews60 followers
April 10, 2017
I'm underwhelmed. I struggled to connect with this novella from the start; maybe I'm just overtired / jetlagged, but it felt chaotic. The twist was telegraphed early, but there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary contortion and obfuscation that reduced the focus on the personal drama and flattened the characters. It's not a bad book, but it just didn't work for me.

Full review (less whelmed the more I think about it)
Profile Image for Irene Grumman.
62 reviews
December 15, 2017
"On a desperately overcrowded future Earth crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none." (Back cover blurb) That hooked me into an intelligent, interesting novella whose heroine is a brilliant survivor with a strange companion. I'm delighted to discover this author and look forward to seeing her other stories.
Profile Image for Tsana Dolichva.
Author 4 books64 followers
September 5, 2017
Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones is a science fictional novella put out by Tor.com. I picked it up based on a recommendation from a friend, and the vague belief that maybe I'd like Gwyneth Jones more now that I was older.

Proof of Concept had some interesting ideas in it but they did not overall make up for certain less interesting aspects of the writing and story. To start off, I found the start difficult to follow. The actual opening scene was OK, as far as these things go, but the subsequent section which, more or less, explained the point of the story was hard to follow. Especially since I was tired when I was reading it. I actually ended up going back and rereading a section because I realised I had no idea what was going on. I will note, however, that further into the book things pick up a bit and I found myself more interested in returning to reading it than I was nearer to the start.

I mentioned giving this story a chance based on a recommendation. The reason I needed a friend's recommendation to give it a try is because the only other Gwyneth Jones book I've read is Bold As Love, back in my early teens. Back then, I picked that book up because it had a pretty cover (so pretty, more so in real life than online) but didn't enjoy it. I thought at the time it was because I was too young to get some of the references (true but not the whole issue) but reading Proof of Concept I noticed a few parallels in character choices, mostly of background characters that bothered me the same way. So I think I'm just not a fan of Gwyneth Jones's writing and probably never will be.

That said, the middle and end of Proof of Concept were interesting enough to have me turning pages for reasons beyond wanting to get it over with. The plot centres around an isolation mission, with people sealed into a large underground cavern on a not-spaceship. The idea is that the scientists will perform experiments in a giant Faraday cage (or something, the basis was wishy-washy with intention) and the other half of the inhabitants were something to do with the media. I may have missed something, but I think it was a reality TV kind of thing, to be released after they all came back from the mission. (See what I mean about being confused? I only really managed to get my head around the science half of the premise.) Unexpected stuff starts to happen though, making the plot more interesting and culminating in a satisfying ending. I should be clear that I found the ending satisfying because it fit with my headcannon, but others might find the degree of uncertainty frustrating.

I would recommend Proof of Concept to fans of hard SF who don't mind a significant character-driven component to their stories. On the other hand, I wouldn't recommend it to fans of character-driven stories. I liked the main character, who is also a host for a quantum computer, but I didn't feel that she was enough to save the story. Not that she was a bad choice of point of view character, just that we could have gotten to know her even more that we did. Personally, I don't think I'll bother picking up anything by Gwyneth Jones in the future, but this is a very subjective analysis and you definitely shouldn't let me put you off if you haven't given her a shot (and being a novella, Proof of Concept isn't a terrible way to sample her writing).

3 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
683 reviews10 followers
February 24, 2018
Gwyneth Jones’s novella Proof of Concept is a densely packed narrative, weaving multiple thematic threads together into a single coherent story. The protagonist, a young woman named Kir, was chosen from a life of brutal poverty to be the host to an AI called Altair - serving as the biological platform for a software too complex to run solely on inanimate hardware. That brutal life was the result of being an outsider, a ‘scav,’ in a world ruined by ecological collapse leading to a severe population crisis. This post-climate-change earth has dead oceans and limited agricultural land, vast areas of the planet’s are unlivable and most of humanity survives - just barely - in crowded cities known as hives. The dream is The Great Escape - a way out of the solar system, to inhabit a new, fresh world.

Dan Orsted is known as the Great Popularizer. He creates Very Long Duration Training Missions in which groups of potential space explorers simulate interstellar travel conditions - while the world watches, the newest version of reality television. Margarethe Patel is a physicist working on the theory of instantaneous travel.

The Needle is an experimental space travel device built in a deep chasm. Here a group of Patel’s scientists and Orsted’s LDM reality star colonists will spend a year in isolation while Patel’s team works on the problem of directing instantaneous travel. They already know they can send the Needle out, and bring it back - now they need to find out how to find out where it goes, and eventually make it go where they want.

At first, it seems to be working well. There’s some interpersonal discomfort - friction is a bad word in the intensely social society of the hives - between the mostly driven an introverted scientists and the determinedly gregarious media stars, but nothing serious.

Then one of the scientists dies. A few months later, another. And shortly after that, another. All older, with known health issues, but still it doesn’t feel right to Kir. Meanwhile, Kir has suddenly started to ‘hear’ Altair speaking to her. The first thing he does is ask her to check certain offline data, data which, if she understands correctly, means that solving the instantaneous travel problem is much closer than she believed it to be, that they have ‘proof of concept’ - but Patel hasn’t told anyone yet. And then her casual lover, one of the LDM personnel, is brutally murdered.

Proof of Concept is a heavily layered science fiction mystery story, tightly plotted, with deceptions and evasions on almost all sides, as Kir struggles to find out what is really going inside the Needle Project. By the time she finds out, it is too late for the characters to do anything except accept the challenge to survive. What’s left for the reader is to consider the morality of certain acts in the face of extinction of not just humanity, but all things on the Earth.

Jones never gives easy answers in her fiction. Proof of Concept is no exception.
Profile Image for Katherine.
731 reviews6 followers
January 21, 2021
On a failing, crumbling, future Earth, where climate change has pushed the remaining human civilizations into every smaller and more dangerous areas, the remaining hope for humanity lies in an experimental science installation currently testing new capabilities for navigation towards distant, habitable exoplanets. Kir is one of the scientists confined to The Needle for the duration of the project, but she understands her role at this underground compound has less to do with her skills and everything to do with the quantum artificial intelligence, Altair, hosted in her brain. While aboard, Altair tries to warn Kir about the mission- he knows something that he can’t tell. But between the inconsistencies of communication, his own safety barriers in Kir’s brain, and the speed of the revolving dangers, he may not be able to get the message across before it’s far too late.

Proof of Concept was peculiar. I think, reading the synopsis again a few times after finishing this novella, it makes slightly more sense than I thought it did during most of the reading. There were a lot of fictional-futuristic concepts floated around in the book, characteristics of a science-minded plot that was almost too contrived to be easily understood. I hard a very difficult time getting a good sense of setting or character from any point in the book. Descriptions of the characters were relatively minimal, The Needle itself is left up to our imaginations other than science labs, common areas, which are relatively easy to conjure. Altair only makes a couple appearances, which was disappointing after being led to believe that he might play a much more central role- his existence is almost incidental in the story overall. There were just too many concepts, and not enough time to explore in the speedy 138 pages, to make this novella feel grounded and intentional. I wanted to be delighted, but Proof of Concept mostly left me feeling bereft of a richness of detail and crafty world building that could have elevated the story to much higher levels.
Profile Image for Jeanne Boyarsky.
Author 30 books67 followers
May 7, 2023
This was a short read. At 131 pages, I read it in a day. The premise is the word is falling apart. People live in dense hives in either MegaCorp East (China) or MegaCorp West (undefined). The other areas are "dead zones" where people live as scavengers. People have to get baby permits, which are valuable, but apparently also free to be ignored?

There's a bunch of AI. One is a global audience mediator which sounds a like like social scores. There's also one in Kar (the main character's) head. The premise is that they want to test quantum space travel in "the Needle." As a test, they have a lot of people live underground, disconnected for a year. At the end there will be a test of the technology where they will visit an exoplanet and return.

Margrethe (scientist) and Dan (reality tv simulating long term travel) lead this. So far so good. There are a series of deaths and Kar's AI tries to warn her. The back cover says humans are programmed to ignore future dangers. I wish that were explored.

Then it gets confusing. Dan's faction believe in innoculating people to the future thru emergency news drills like the Mars Lab being in danger. Or maybe this is real. At the end, they get news of a world destroyed and are told that they are safe because the AI will settle them on a new planet but it will feel like right away). It's unclear to me whether this is true (in which case why aren't they there yet) or a scam in which case they are stuck underground in a non self sufficient system? Or is it that quantum eventually they do in fact visit a new planet, come back and be on the Earth that no longer has people??

Two starts because I read up to the end but left confused.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kate M..
233 reviews9 followers
December 19, 2019
2.5 stars, really. I was disappointed in this, because Gwyneth Jones's Bold As Love series is absolutely magnificent, among my very favorites, and the two other of her novels that I've read were not quite as much my thing but still interesting and worthwhile, but Proof of Concept was considerably weaker in my opinion. Part of that was the novella length. The ending was too abrupt (and also not to my taste). While the protagonist, Kir, was fairly well developed into a complicated person, all of the supporting characters felt flat.

Jones likes to play with big ideas. While her tendency to assume that readers are smart enough to pick up on things that aren't fully laid out means that she can cram a lot of worldbuilding into a small space, I still think Proof of Concept might have been stronger with a little more time to explore those ideas and how they affect the characters. In particular, I would have liked more about Altair, the supercomputer that's installed in Kir's brain but is (supposedly) separate from her mind.

There were a number of things Proof of Concept did well: the setup and atmosphere of the scientific research station isolated at the bottom of a massive abyss, the building sense of dread as people start dying, Kir herself, a cast diverse in race, sexuality/gender identity, and disability status, some interesting worldbuilding concepts like the AI television interviewer created by synthesizing global audience reactions, and more. I found myself eager to keep flipping pages, although that was partially because I read it on a plane. But I just felt there wasn't quite enough there.
Profile Image for David Agranoff.
Author 23 books134 followers
March 24, 2019
Let me be clear about something I was rooting for this novella. I have enjoyed ALL of the Tor novellas I have read before. They have all been great high-quality fiction. There is much to like here in this high concept Cli-Fi story, but ultimately I found it to be a mess that was kinda hard to figure out. It is not a good sign that I went to read other good reads reviews just to see if I understood what I read. I am still not sure I understood what happened. That is not always bad, sometimes you can read a story that is so bizarro that you know there are levels in the story that is beyond easy comprehension. In this case, I think there are too many elements for the 144 pages.

This story takes places in a post-climate change apocalyptic future where much of the globe is Dead Zones. The story followers a group of scientists trying to solve long distance faster than light space travel. You see the overpopulated humans live in underground hives, and our species needs to get the hell out of dodge to survive.

Now it has been a few days since I read it but a bad sign is that all I remember is setting and plot points and nothing about the characters. In fact, I had to go back and look just to see who any of them were. Once I did I remembered Kir she was a pretty interesting character who is home to the interface with the starship AI once they launch. There is a mission to deep space I think, maybe it is a ruse, that is some of the stuff I couldn't really make sense of towards the end.

There are lots of interesting moments and world building but the confusion I felt reading this short novel was a disappointing experience. It felt to me like it needed double the length and another draft. That said this is my first time reading Jones who is has a shelf full of genre awards. I didn't like this book but I saw enough that has me interested to read more of her work.
Profile Image for Everdeen Mason.
31 reviews50 followers
May 4, 2017
Proof of Concept (Tor), by Gwyneth Jones, features another portrayal of an overcrowded, crumbling Earth. Here there’s a seemingly hopeful twist, as scientists are trying to find a way to get people off the planet to a habitable world. One such researcher is Kir, who works out of an underground bunker with a group of other scientists. Kir is brought on board because her brain is the home of Altair, a quantum artificial intelligence implanted in her when she was a child. When people start dying, Kir teams up with Altair to investigate what the other scientists are truly up to in their shared bunker. That mystery is central to the plot, but the fun is in all the details packed into Jones’s novella. Through Kir, we learn how gender and sex have changed, how politics shapes scientific research and what happens to children abandoned in some of Earth’s decaying wastelands. Most important, Jones, an Arthur C. Clarke winner, offers a delicious portrayal of what it feels like when that nagging voice in your head telling you something is wrong is in fact your only ally .

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
Profile Image for Cam.
1,167 reviews39 followers
September 12, 2017
Novella that's pretty weak tea; it's part of a series by TOR that's been stronger with other authors. The size is always problematic for me; neither a short story nor a novel and often featuring the weaknesses of both. So, for me, this one just didn't work. The lead Kir was okay as a scavenger child in a degraded and worn down future Earth, but the story would have been better with more about that part of her life. Most cities have been abandoned for huge structures called hives that exist independently from the surrounding wild lands. The super-rich have a few natural enclaves, but they are petering out. There are simply too many people and the environmental degradation too advanced. Two popular figures, one a Carl Sagan-esque popularizer of science and the other a more genuine one decide to collaborate on a plan to try to reach outer space and give humanity a second chance. Most of the story is them testing their technology in an underground cave just recently discovered that would allow them to see what extreme isolation for a long period would do to the crew and passengers. There's a twist, but frankly not much of one, that's supposed to make it all come together. Could have been a short story and maybe packed some punch or fleshed out to be a deeper exploration of the premise, but it isn't at this point.
Profile Image for Ken Richards.
710 reviews3 followers
March 17, 2018
This one did not quite do it for me. The 'Proof of Concept' is the possibly successful experiment to verify that it is feasible transport people from a collapsing Earth to habitable exoplanets. The experiment is isolated from the rest of humanity in a void under the Tatra mountains. A team of scientists, and a crew of media aparatchiks make up the complement manning the 'Needle'.

Among the scientists is Kir, a refugee from one of Earth's 'Death Zones', who for unknown reasons has a quantum computer 'Altair' in her head. The computer is vital to the project. Kir makes periodic jaunts outside the 'Needle' to the dark void, and hears voices, whilst inside, scientists die, claims of success are made, and finally, bloody murder stalks the experiment.

The ending, and reveal are rushed, and do not really seem to follow. It is a short read, but not easy or simple in execution.
Profile Image for Ariel.
886 reviews69 followers
June 30, 2017
This was very underwhelming.

I don't even know where to start, honestly. Here's a list off the top of my head since I didn't take any notes:

1. One-dimensional characters. Lots of Mary Sues and Gary Lous running freely here.

2. Not enough world-building. Like...none. We're dropped into a world that is supposed to make sense because it's Earth, but...it doesn't. At all.

3. For a science-fiction book, it didn't explain the science properly. Which, actually renders the book kind of pointless.

4. Why are we spending so much time worrying about what the POV character is feeling when none of this makes sense?!

I will say that the saving grace is that this isn't a full-length novel. I really wouldn't have finished it otherwise.

Profile Image for Jacey.
Author 26 books98 followers
May 29, 2017
Locked away in an underground bunker (a massive cave) for a year-long experiment to find the secret of star-travel, Kir, a young scientist with a super-computer in her brain tries to figure out what’s really going on.

Is it me? I read a lot of science fiction, but there were times when I simply didn't follow this. Not sure it makes me like it if it makes me feel stupid. And I REALLY wanted to like it. The blurb for the book explained things fsr more clearly than the text did. Sadly the jargon, somewhat hazy explanations and the heroine Kir who seemed strangely incurious and unemotional even when her emotions should have been screaming at her, put me off this.
Profile Image for USOM.
2,412 reviews199 followers
July 27, 2017
There is a really fascinating take on environmental degradation/overpopulation that underlies the world building. However, the science they reference is way above my head, and they have so much terminology that flies by. With a novella it’s even harder because there’s just so little space within.

Perhaps if this was a full length book, I would have gotten more out of it. But character wise, I couldn’t connect with Kir either. She was a potentially riveting character, and with a supercomputer in her head! But in reality, she had few personality traits besides what she needed for the plot. I would have loved to spend more time with the world, the characters, and the plot.

Profile Image for Nigel.
Author 13 books58 followers
January 4, 2019
A young girl with an AI in her head is sequestered underground with a split team of dedicated scientists and reality-show wannabe astronauts to work on an experiment that may make faster than light travel. Except it won't even if successful - though it could make it possible in the far future. Their world doesn't have a future, though, as runaway climate change and expanding dead zones hems people into more crowded city enclaves. So what's the point of this whole effort? And why are so many of the senior scientists dying? And what is the machine in her head trying to tell her?

A sharp, cool, dense little story about the costs and realities of doing science too little too late.
Profile Image for Jamie Rich.
376 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2017
Proof of Concept (ebook) by Gwyneth Jones

However much time and money I spent on this book was a waste of both. Yes, you did hear me correctly. It's not very often I pan a book, but this book deserves it. The characters are flat, and not really developed at all. The plot is often confusing, and not well managed. It was just barely interesting enough that I finished it. But just barely. I think the author has some real potential, and would love to see her develop her story telling skills. Until then, take a pass on this one.
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