If you’ve read the Illuminae Files trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, then you’ll no doubt be intimately familiar with a certain murderous artificial intelligence named AIDAN. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that he stole the show in his own way, and in recognition of the impact his role has had on the saga, the authors have written a story about AIDAN in a new prequel novella called Memento.
The book opens with an introduction to Emily Kline, a brilliant and promising young military specialist who is thrilled to have been assigned to a position aboard a stage-of-the-art starship to study its A.I. Throughout the story, she writes to her father about her experiences, gushing about her exciting opportunity to work with AIDAN, as well her growing feelings for her new supervisor, Major Ethan Wolf. Sociable and keen, Emily also makes quick friends with her roommate and fellow ranker, Stephanie.
But what no one realizes, is that while the scientists have been observing AIDAN, the A.I. has been observing them too. Over time, he begins to learn the ways of human thinking and interaction, making notes on Emily’s friendships and her developing romance with Ethan despite his inability to grasp their significance on an emotional level. And as we all know, the controls safeguarding AIDAN and his programming ultimately become compromised, leading to disastrous results. Following the attack on Kerenza IV, the fleet of desperate survivors looked to the powerful A.I. to protect them, only to discover too late he is not the savior they expected.
Essentially, Memento is the bridge story that gets us to that point. It is therefore a prerequisite to have read at least Illuminae in order to appreciate the story in this novella, otherwise it might seem pointless or confusing. Like the main trilogy, it is also written in an epistolary style, so that all the action is presented to us through personal communications, transcripts, and other forms of documentation.
As you might have guessed, the plot is extremely thin. Clocking in at around 80 pages or approximately an hour and a half for the audiobook, there really wasn’t much time to develop the story or the characters, especially given the limits of the format. As I said, this is also a story about AIDAN, and as such he is our main focus here, with all the human characters taking a backseat, which is great if that is what you’d been hoping for. The problem is though, from the way things turned out in the end, it was clear the authors had been gunning for an emotional punch, but sadly because of the lack of character and relationship development, it simply didn’t pan out that way at all.
Still, I hesitate to discount Memento completely, if for no other reason than the fact it felt great to return to the Illuminae Files world, and it’s all the more fun if you’re solely motivated by a background story about AIDAN and not too concerned with the human characters. Its short length also meant it made for a quick bite sized read, and while it’s true I didn’t go in expecting a deep story, I nevertheless found it entertaining. I was also fortunate enough to listen to the audiobook, and as you know, all the books in this series are narrated by a full cast. It makes a huge difference, especially with this talented group of voice actors, and I’m so glad they decided not to forgo that tradition with this novella....more
I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out for me. While I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Bear’s work in the past, for some reason Machine failed to capture my attention, and even from the start the story and main character struggled to make an impression, though I tried my best to give the book a fair shake.
At first, I thought it might have something to do with the fact it is a sequel, and that I haven’t read its predecessor, Ancestral Night. However, it soon became clear that was not the case, because although Machine takes place in the same White Space universe, it is written to be experienced as a standalone, featuring a new story and a different protagonist. Dr. Brookllyn Jens is her name, a rescue specialist working on a first responder ship dispatched to investigate a distress signal originating from a generation ship which left Earth hundreds of years ago. Upon arrival, Dr. Jens finds the ship’s crew and passengers still sealed inside their cryogenic space pods, with only an android named Helen as the only conscious caretaker active onboard.
Thus, a tantalizing mystery emerges: What could have happened to the ship to leave its ten thousand souls in such a state? And what might have caused Helen, an A.I. who doesn’t appear to be all together there, to be left in charge by herself? Even more disconcerting is the discovery of a modern vessel attached to the centuries-old generation ship, and the strange machine inside of it, dubbed a craboid because of its resemblance to the crustacean. Everyone is baffled as to its purpose, though Jens might have a few guesses. As she works hard to rescue as many of the passengers as she can by transporting them to the state-of-the-art hospital at which she is employed, even more problems begin to arise, including an unknown illness, computer viruses, and even malicious sabotage. As much as Jens wants to get to the bottom of all of it, she worries the answers will come at a steep price—and she isn’t sure she will like what she finds.
To be fair, Machine had quite a few strengths, even if they weren’t enough to win me over. For example, I liked that our protagonist was a doctor, and the medical angle of her narrative provided this space opera with a fresh and interesting perspective. I also enjoyed the author’s vision for her futuristic setting, one populated by humans, aliens, and A.I. There’s wonderful interaction between the characters, creating opportunities for compelling relationships as well as plenty of room to grow them.
Unfortunately though, Dr. Jens winds up being the weak link in all these scenarios. For one thing, she can’t seem to stop with the aggravating internal monologues, rambling on and on in a completely different line of thought than whatever was happening on the page. While it’s probably in her character’s nature to be inquisitive and examine every single tiny thing from all possible angles, as a reader trying to follow her often long-winded and digressive spiels it was absolute torture. It’s a shame, really, for I’m sure this novel could have been one hell of a sci-fi mystery page-turner, if only the main character could’ve shut up long enough for the exciting parts of the story to actually come through.
Perhaps it is not surprising then, that pacing was also an issue. Due to all the frequent interruptions and tangents, the plot never really manages to find its rhythm, and to be honest, there were too many moments I found myself bored and tempted to skim or skip ahead. I tried to sympathize with Jens, because she really does have quite an intricate and poignant backstory, but the narrative style simply made it far too difficult to engage. I also didn’t like her over-the-top self-criticism especially towards the end of the book, which didn’t help her likeability one bit, and only served to make me even more annoyed with her.
Overall, I can’t say I had a good experience with Machine, even though the novel’s premise with its mystery and intrigue should have been right up alley. Regrettably, I just couldn’t get onboard with the main character and the stop-start pacing of the story, when what I really wanted was less talk and more emphasis on the mystery aspect and the action elements. Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied and disappointed....more
I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve also enjoyed the Mary Robinette Kowal’s work in the past, so you can imagine my excitement for their futuristic sci-fi action-thriller collaboration. There’s a couple things you need to know, however. First, this is novella-length story, and second, it is only available as an audiobook, and both these factors have the possibility to influence your enjoyment as it did mine.
The Original starts with protagonist Holly Winseed waking up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she ended up there, surrounded by government agents waiting to interrogate her, and based on their questions, her heart immediately fills with a sense of dread as she realizes what must have happened. She is a Provisional Replica, a clone that is created only in cases where their Original had committed a serious crime. In this case, the real Holly had murdered her husband Jonathan in cold blood and is now on the run, evading all attempts to track her down. The task now falls to replica Holly to find and kill her. If she succeeds, she will be given the opportunity to assume her Original’s place and petition for Jonathan to be revived. But if she fails, her life-sustaining treatments required by replicas will be halted, and she will die.
But the government had underestimated Holly’s persistence for answers. As a clone, she has all her Original’s memories and emotions, and she cannot fathom any scenario in which she would ever want to kill her husband. With her new combat implants and enhanced abilities, replica Holly sets out to find her Original, convinced of her innocence. But as the trail of clues takes her closer to her goal, Holly comes under attack by terrorists and other shadowy enemies, forcing her to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Sad to say, despite the incredible premise and some of the very cool ideas here, I can’t say I enjoyed this one as much as I wanted to. The good news, however, is that the world-building is fantastic. There was definitely some of that Sanderson magic shining through, especially the points about injectable nanite technology allowing humans to essentially choose eternal life should they want it. Those who decide to live on the edge and “checkout” of this system become the ones that go against the prevailing norm for a variety of reasons, which can range from risk-taking to the preservation of personal privacy. This creates the basis for further exploration—from social, moral, and emotional standpoints and more—quite typical for Sanderson stories, if you’re familiar with his work.
Unfortunately, the world-building is about the only aspect I found to truly stand out. This was a relatively a short novella, so that might a restricting factor, limiting development to the characters and plot. As for Holly, I didn’t feel much sympathy towards her, and felt like there may have been slight overwriting and too much telling-not-showing when it came to her feelings and motivations (which incidentally is a weakness I’ve noted in Kowal’s books in the past). I also could have done with more action and thrills, and less time spent in Holly’s head watching her bemoan her situation and wallow in self-pity.
All in all, The Original was enjoyable enough, but I have to say I’d expected a bit more from a collab project between these two powerhouses of SFF. It’s still a good listen and worth your time, but it didn’t wow me, and on top of that, there were a few things about the audiobook I found irritating. Narrator Julia Whelan delivered a fantastic performance, as she always does, but I had no idea what the production team were thinking when they added in the sound effects, which came in at the most random times. Instead of adding to the atmosphere and immersion, they were just plain annoying, and is definitely not usual for an audiobook....more