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The Phoenix Code

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Deadly awakening

When robotics expert Megan O’Flannery is offered the chance to direct MindSim’s cutting-edge program to develop a self-aware android, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. But the project is trouble plagued—the third prototype “killed” itself, and the RS-4 is unstable. Megan will descend into MindSim’s underground research lab in the Nevada desert, where she will be the sole human in contact with the RS-4, dubbed Aris.

Programmed as part of a top-secret defense project, the awakening Aris quickly proves to be deviously resourceful and basically uncontrollable. When Megan enlists the help of Raj Sundaram, the quirky, internationally renowned robotics genius, the android develops a jealous hostility toward Raj—and a fixation on Megan. But soon she comes to realize that Raj may be an even greater danger—and that her life may depend on the choice she makes between the man she wants to trust and the android she created.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Catherine Asaro

98 books633 followers
Blog at https://www.facebook.com/Catherine.As...

The author of more than twenty-five books, Catherine Asaro is acclaimed for her Ruby Dynasty series, which combines adventure, science, romance and fast-paced action. Her novel The Quantum Rose won the Nebula® Award, as did her novella “The Spacetime Pool.” Among her many other distinctions, she is a multiple winner of the AnLab from Analog magazine and a three time recipient of the RT BOOKClub Award for “Best Science Fiction Novel.” Her most recent novel, Carnelians, came out in October, 2011. An anthology of her short fiction titled Aurora in Four Voices is available from ISFiC Press in hardcover, and her multiple award-winning novella “The City of Cries” is also available as an eBook for Kindle and Nook.

Catherine has two music CD’s out and she is currently working on her third. The first, Diamond Star, is the soundtrack for her novel of the same name, performed with the rock band, Point Valid. She appears as a vocalist at cons, clubs, and other venues in the US and abroad, including recently as the Guest of Honor at the Denmark and New Zealand National Science Fiction Conventions. She performs selections from her work in a multimedia project that mixes literature, dance, and music with Greg Adams as her accompanist. She is also a theoretical physicist with a PhD in Chemical Physics from Harvard, and a jazz and ballet dancer. Visit her at www.facebook.com/Catherine.Asaro

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5 stars
63 (17%)
4 stars
121 (32%)
3 stars
128 (34%)
2 stars
42 (11%)
1 star
16 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 44 reviews
Profile Image for Mathew Walls.
398 reviews12 followers
September 30, 2015
This book reminded me a lot of something by Isaac Asimov, both in style and subject matter; the story would have fit in quite well as part of his positronic robot series. Another similarity is the implausible near-future technology. The book is set in 2021 and mentions holographs, memory cubes, vending robots, hovercars, VR suits, microfusion reactors and computerised nail polish as everyday things, alongside outdated tech like disks and fax machines, and one of the newest and most revolutionary things about to go on the market is a robot vacuum cleaner. It makes it very difficult to get an impression of where the technology level of society is supposed to be at, and makes it hard to take the book seriously. That mostly applies to the early parts though, it gets a bit more consistent as it goes.

The weirdness of the technology would be somewhat more forgiveable in the original version of the book, published in 2000, but the edition I read was supposedly revised in 2013, by which point the technology should have been updated or, at the very least, the year changed.

Speaking of the year, the protagonist is 35 and claims that one of her earliest memories is "toddling after" a very sophisticated-sounding robotic cat, of the kind that might just about be possible with today's technology, but certainly not in a children's toy, and the idea that such a thing could have existed in the early nineties made me think for a moment that the book was supposed to be set in an alternate timeline, but nothing else in the book supports this.

All that aside, the story takes a little bit to get going, but once it does it's about a prototype android, supposedly the first of its kind (although we later learn that it actually isn't). There's a whole team of people working on it, but most of them are completely irrelevant and do nothing. Presumably they're working on things in the background, but we're never given any impression of what their roles are.

So for most of the book there are really only three characters: Aris/Ander the android; Megan the programmer; and Raj the roboticist. And even they don't do much. The book spends a while setting up the idea of the android learning about itself and humans before the last third of the book turns into an action thriller. First the android goes rogue, and then a sort of crime syndicate or something starts chasing them around, and then it ends.

There's a painfully obvious twist concerning Raj that causes some needless tension along the way, they find out about some earlier android experiments that led to the creation of a homicidal murderbot, and there's a bunch of characterisation that doesn't really lead to anything, and the conclusion is basically "technological progress is pretty good but sometimes bad things happen". It's all pretty generic and forgettable.

One thing I do want to point out though is how weird and inconsistent the android's body is. He's partially made from human tissue (specifically, some grown from the DNA of one of the researchers), but has hydraulics, a microfusion reactor, silver cooling fluid instead of blood, but human skin and functioning genitals - it's actually kind of creepy how much attention is given to the idea of androids procreating with humans.

This android (the prototype, remember) is supposedly designed to be a spy, able to pass for human - but a tiny cut would reveal that he bled silver, and any more serious injury or slightly invasive scan would reveal his internal workings were totally artificial. And why would you try to make a functional spy on your first attempt at an AGI? Why even make it look human? As far as I can tell, just because it allows the plot to happen, and the facts about how his body works and is put together just seems to be every idea the author had that she thought sounded cool, without any regard for how it all fitted together.

I wouldn't recommend this book, but I wouldn't tell you not to read it either. It's pretty generic sci-fi that doesn't really say anything new, but it's mostly not bad, even if it does feel like it was written a lot earlier than is actually the case. Then again, you could just read some Asimov instead, he was pretty good.
18 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2017
Both stars are for the premise - a cool idea poorly executed. Strong smart female protagonist getting to work on AI from the philosophical standpoint that this will be a new species and our next evolutionary step? Awesome! Hot male protagonist who should be her intellectual match at least? Great! Love triangle with a twist? Yes!


The characters are shallow and inconsistent. Any empathy we feel is undercut by their ridiculous actions, then going back on those actions ten pages later for no apparent reason.

The science isn't applied consistently. For example, the android character is shown as vulnerable to injury at one point, but easily muscles through a far more severe event later.

Worst of all is the way the android character's (Ander, haw haw) stereotypical descent into violent behaviour is just soaped away as "wow, he's evolving free will and emotion and sure attempted rape is bad but gee, he really thought that through - yay Ander!".

The romance aspect is no better. Megan merely tells Raj he's great the way he is twice, and they're pair-bonded for life. We're -told- Megan is strong and smart, but we never see it. Raj's "eccentric genius" runs to soap carving and saving insects.

The big plot twist was predictable, and contained a glaring plot inconsistency that annoys me even now.

It didn't get it done as either a scifi novel or a romance. I wasn't expecting high art, but even pulpy fun should actually be fun. I got lots of giggles, but not in an on-purpose way.

Also: the edition I read was allegedly a revised edition. It was riddled with editing and spelling errors, which didn't help in allowing you to try to sink into the story.

The high star rating on GoodReads was certainly a factor in me giving this one a go, so if I save a few hours for even one other person, I'll be happy.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tina.
758 reviews40 followers
December 2, 2010
This book is very entertaining, not entirely unbelievable, and full of action. It was pretty much strictly entertainment as certain concepts were touched upon but never completely evaluated. The implications of an android's sentience could definitely have been explored in more depth, but then again, that would have detracted from the plot and action (and sex!). Overall I enjoyed this book for its entertainment value and erotic component, if not for its writing style and rather happily-ever-after ending.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Danielle T.
23 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2022
this book was an okay idea with awful execution. like wtf did i just spend my time reading. the writing was at the level i could have written in middle school. if i ever found myself wondering what would be the next plot point i was in luck! within the next 2 pages she would completely skip to another scene or completely change the story. there was absolutely no transition between her ideas and it just made it terrible. the only reason i give this 2 stars is because i believe that with a good author this story could work. but just. no.
Profile Image for Micah Sisk.
Author 5 books57 followers
October 3, 2016
I don't believe I would have read this book if it hadn't come in a bundle; SF with a Romance angle isn't my normal territory. But I went into it unaware of the plot, the author, or the subject matter, so ...

I had severe doubts about the book early on, as the SF plot set-up seemed cursory at best and the Romance angle quickly became the primary plot mover, unconvincing as that angle was. Now, I'm not opposed to Romance as a genre or romance in a story, but I was a bit taken aback with how insubstantially these elements were written: lightweight and almost superficial. However, every time I was near giving up on the book, Asaro went back to the SF plot elements and here her writing was ultimately way more solid.

There's nothing very new about any of the ideas here--the creation of sentient AI is a well-worn SF trope--and at times I found her handling of the subject a bit clunky and glossed over, but as the book moves on her take on newborn AI entities becomes more and more adeptly handled, more nuanced and sophisticated. She puts an interesting new twist on the developmental phase of a new AI species, and a lot of the mid-to-late part of the book is highly engaging. In the end, this saved the book.

There are several plot holes and implausible elements in the book that I could complain about, but given the overall light quality of the storytelling, they really didn't hinder my reading pleasure. It was only when Asaro made periodic returns to the Romance side of the story that hurt it for me. Again, I like a good romance in whatever kind of book I'm reading ... but it needs to feel more compelling and authentic than it did here. The SF elements began a bit flaky, but developed into something admirably satisfying.

There's some good stuff here, but it comes with some fluff as well.
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
813 reviews14 followers
September 16, 2015
I got this novella as part of a Story Bundle, and read it in one go on a plane. Another take on the robot-overlords idea, it's quite compelling and suspenseful and the main character is solid enough that the romance doesn't feel too contrived. Slightly predictable but no less enjoyable for it.
Profile Image for rebecca.
95 reviews1 follower
June 18, 2022
had very low hopes for this after finding 20 copies of it at the thrift store but it was a lot better than i was expecting.. didn’t really mind it
Profile Image for Paul Hancock.
154 reviews20 followers
December 15, 2015
The Phoenix code tells a story around the invention of the first androids. Asaro explores many of the themes that often surround such stories - humanity, emotions, control, and ethics. I found the writing to be interesting and the story to be captivating. I enjoy a story such as this, that can exist in the hard sci-fi genre, but without the sci-fi being the driving interest. The sci-fi acts as a background for the story, and the only background that makes sense.

The Phoenix code follows the work of Megan, a AI specialist who is contracted to help with the development of an Android brain. There are many lines of intrigue in the story right from the outset, and you know that there are hidden agendas. In my mind this story reminds me of an Asmiov's mystery - a lot of intrigue that sort of sneaks up on you to that you suddenly realise that many things you took for granted are wrong but only in subtle but important ways. I seem to be rambling a bit, but only because I want to convey my enjoyment of the book without having to hide sections of the review due to spoilers.

Read this book. It is good on so many levels.
Profile Image for John Loyd.
1,121 reviews31 followers
March 4, 2016
The Phoenix Code (2000) 333 pages by Catherine Asaro.

MIT Professor Megan O'Flannery is recruited by MindSim to work on a self-aware android. They've had three failures and the fourth is locking up trying to do something as simple as jumping over a box. Megan is able to make progress but is asking for help on the hardware side. MindSim is able to win the recruiting battle with rival Arizonax and hire Raj Sundaram. Up until his hire Megan had been the sole human stationed at NEV-5. Now the Android, later taking the name Ander, gets jealous and suspicious of Raj.

The central theme is how AI will develop and interact with humanity. The book flies by, the writing was so smooth and understandable that the only time I've read pages faster is when it was pure dialog. You have to suspend disbelief enough to accept that this is how Anders could react. I wouldn't put this up with her Skolian novels, all of which are awesome, but it is still a fun entertaining read incorporating AI as an emergent technology.

Profile Image for Miki.
352 reviews
July 15, 2017
A captivating story about two genius scientists working on an android with sophisticated artificial intelligence that turns rogue in the attempt to evolve and preserve himself. He gets them all in danger, while mysterious evil forces, including possibly other sentient androids, are chasing after them. The description of the development and evolution of the artificial intelligence and of the android body is quite fascinating.
Profile Image for Hectaizani.
668 reviews17 followers
July 19, 2018
Female scientist in the robotics field gets tapped to create a fully functioning android with help from an eccentric billionaire robotics expert. Not all the science is consistent. The romantic angle is a little underdeveloped. Not a terrible read by any means just pretty average overall.
Profile Image for Vulch.
7 reviews1 follower
October 6, 2017
Abandoned, can't cope with the choppy writing style.
Profile Image for Anthony Faber.
1,579 reviews4 followers
March 6, 2021
Cyberpunk romance thriller. If you like her, you'll probably like this.
Profile Image for Peter.
582 reviews19 followers
December 15, 2015
Robotics expert Megan O'Flannery joins a project to produce artificial intelligence in an android body, and begins making quick strides in making the prototype more intelligent and emotive. Meanwhile, she also becomes close with another expert in the field, the strange but brilliant Raj. But then things start to go wrong as the android develops a fixation for Megan.

The book started okay, but my interested started to wane fast. It was at its best when it had the main character trying to train a clearly-not-that-intelligent android... unfortunately, that didn't last long before it became able to act more of less human, albeit one with some severe mental issues and a vastly different knowledge base. Then we moved around between rebellious adolescent and obsessed stalker and a few other personality changes along the way, which occasionally became interesting but with the unpredictability came a sense that the personality was being written to the needs of the plot. And that plot really didn't do much for me.

The words that come most to mind when I think back on the book are, "like an medium-quality Outer Limits episode." It would have made a decent episode of the 90s series... in fact, there are a few episodes that, plotwise, resemble this story a lot. I'm not trying to imply there was any swiping going on, just that many of the ideas feel well-worn and, while suitable for forty-five minutes of television, as a novel, it felt distinctly underwhelming.

In addition to being stale, the plot was full of things that didn't really feel right. Such as, when trying to create an android that can seem human, that they apparently started with robot bodies that looked identical to humans (and Terminator-style, had an outer layer of flesh which, the text made sure to point out, had working sex organs). Seriously? You go to the trouble to produce a sexually capable android body and you haven't even got the AI licked yet? You'd think it would make more sense to start with an obviously nonhuman robot body so that, if it all goes wrong, the thing can't just try to integrate into normal society. I understand that without that, the rest of the story wouldn't have worked, but the movie Short Circuit did better than that.

The book was also weirdly dated. I remember in particular one line where they mentioned all the amenities a particular tool or lab provided, and they mentioned fax. Twice. Now, I believe the second one was a simple accident, but the first was obviously intentional. This kind of thing is inevitable with SF, as it gets old there are going to be some things about the future that are hilariously wrong, and you normally give it a pass... but in this case, it's a little more egregious. The reason, and also why I say it's "weirdly" dated, is that I believe this was revised since it's original 2000 publication, only a couple years ago, and there are a few references to social media or other things that have been updated. That some of the book feels modern and other parts are not make it even worse than if the book was simply out-of-date.

The book's not completely horrible. I did like that there was a romance plot with a person who didn't seem like a typical romantic lead, full of strange habits and insecurities, and there are a few genuine surprises that I liked, but, on the whole, the book misses it's mark.
Profile Image for Joey Hill.
Author 119 books3,392 followers
March 27, 2016
Even though I gave this a two, I give the author full marks for ambitiousness. What didn't work for me was the character development. The science, as well as all the questions/moral issues related to turning an android into a "human", was very thought provoking and detailed. The two human characters themselves just felt very immature and too two-dimensional. I couldn't get past Megan excusing Ander's criminal behavior with constant repetitious "oh my, isn't it amazing he's going through this struggle like a human might". It made me feel like she was a TSTL heroine (too stupid to live). I think I could see where the author was trying to take us - to show Megan as a very enlightened person who could rise above personal considerations to understand this android was developing emotions and having to handle that in ways that were outside our out comfort zone,. However, I think the author fell short of convincing me of Megan's enlightenment. I just felt she was impossibly naive. And while Raj's obsessive secrecy was explained adequately in the end, it did not make him a very likable character through much of the book.

I did find Ander's decision about what he truly wanted to be (no spoilers) to be an intriguing revelation and a good spotlight on the human stumbling block that we think of ourselves as the pinnacle of existence.

Overall, it felt like the concept/science of this book was given far more attention than the character development and story itself. I read a book for the characters/relationships, so my 2-star could very well be my hangup and not someone else's. I loved Diamond Star by this same author, and it was more character-focused.
41 reviews
June 24, 2021
Hormonally driven woman is tasked with training a fledgling Android's AI.

This book was bad. Chick-lit meets Asimov and does both badly. I only finished it because other reviews said the second half got better but it still wasn't worth it.

68 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2015
I don't read a lot of romance but I can see some of the genre conventions in this work. That part of the novel was well done. The story itself and our female protagonist were better than average. The parts of the story that let me down were in the early misbehavior of Ander and the ending section.

I felt like an entire dimension of horror was lacking when Ander started taking over. Several scenes were total terrors but the author never took us there. The protagonist was surreally calm and collected. I found that very unrealistic and distracting.

And the ending was very abrupt after the big reveal about Raj. It was a whole "and they lived happily ever after" vibe. Very unsophisticated after Ms Asaro tackles some much larger issues in this tale.
37 reviews
June 22, 2014
The Phoenix code was a fun read although it was a little bit lightweight. really enjoyed the connection between robotics & human relationships as a future is to kind of story.
I am interested in reading something else by Catherine Asaro to see what her other stories are like. I read the Phoenix code in the Kindle app on my iPhone and was surprised to see the number of small grammatical errors that were in the book. As I read the book I was not aware of who wrote the book but could tell that it was probably written by woman versus a man in the technical field by the nature of the storyline. Again I did enjoy reading.
Profile Image for J'aime.
808 reviews27 followers
August 3, 2011
A re-working of a staple inSciFi - an escaped android. Megan is working on the development of an AI android, which subsequently escapes. When she and a colleague are kidnapped by the android, they have to work fast to socialize it. What makes this worthwhile is a nice romantic element to support the plot. Though not very original, it is never-the-less a real page turner with an exciting conclusion. The book made me want to read more from the author.
Profile Image for David.
449 reviews8 followers
September 3, 2011
3.5 stars or so. It starts with the issues of AI and safeguards (such as Asimov's Laws of Robotics). There's food for thought there - that part appealed to me the most. Then it transitions first to a sort of mystery (which of these two individuals is lying / dangerous?) then to a sort-of chase / thriller story. As a result, the idea seeds don't get to develop much. That was disappointing to me. However, the adventure part of the book was effective.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
69 reviews4 followers
March 18, 2016
The Phoenix Code explores humanity and artificial intelligence through the story of a scientist helping to create the first androids. The characters are colorful and compelling, and the depiction of emerging AI is thought-provoking at times. Unfortunately, the writing felt a bit amateurish to me, especially in the opening exposition; the first chapter or two are a little painful to get through. But once the plot gets going, it doesn't let up, and I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Laura de Leon.
1,070 reviews28 followers
September 16, 2015

This was another book from the "Women in Science Fiction" story bundle, and I'm very glad that I stumbled across it.

This is something of a coming of age novel, except the one coming of age is an android, one of the first to become self aware. This isn't a smooth journey, and I appreciated the parallels with human adolescence.

The book was thought provoking, but still an interesting, readable story.
Profile Image for Fate's Lady.
1,243 reviews2 followers
October 6, 2015
I love Asaro, but this was not my favorite of her books. The development and behavior or the AI was really interesting, but the book took a while to get up to pace and once things started to get scary or dangerous, the two main characters took things entirely too much in stride, remaining calm and analytical in a situation that I think most people would find horrifying. It wasn't an awful story, but it wasn't all that memorable.
Profile Image for Matt.
427 reviews11 followers
November 11, 2011
Borderline 2-3 stars.

The Phoenix Code swings back and forth between action techno-thriller and philosophical considerations of a machine mind given human form. For me, it doesn't quite do either of its aspects justice.

This is a minor standalone novel that is enjoyable enough on its own terms; certainly not up with the best of Catherine Asaro’s works.
Profile Image for Mhorg.
Author 8 books10 followers
July 3, 2015
anything dealing with A.I. goes one of two ways, predictable or original. this falls into the prior category. I found the situations fairly predictable and the story a bit slow. the main character wasn't that interesting and I figured out the big reveal long before it happened. also a lot of the techno babble reminded me of some of the worst episodes of star trek.
Profile Image for Anthony Brown.
7 reviews
April 17, 2016
As others mentioned, this reads like a modern day Isaac Asimov book - which is no bad thing. The story deals with a humanoid robot and how it learns what it means to be human. The story itself is quite good, but the characters in it are a bit two dimensional and the romance between the two main characters is written in the style of a Mills & Boon romance novel
Profile Image for idle.
114 reviews4 followers
May 29, 2016
Two stars are labeled "It's OK", so I'm giving it two stars. The android development didn't feel right to me - sometimes more robotic than I'd expect, sometimes too humanlike (although there were no hormones involved, all the development was done in the brain). As a result, I didn't get immersed much in the whole story.
Profile Image for Dawn.
1,257 reviews74 followers
September 29, 2014
This book tries so hard to be serious about artificial intelligence but falls flat. The story is rushed and spends way to much time on an odd love triangle. Don't bother reading this one when Asaro has so many better books.
Profile Image for Julia.
9 reviews7 followers
April 18, 2013
I thought it was interesting perspective on AI development. I really enjoyed the plot twists, and the satisfying ending. I've read quite a bit of science fiction that involves AI, but not anything quite like this, with Asaro's unique viewpoint.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 44 reviews

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