I’d put this book squarely in the young adult fantasy camp, interwoven with dashes of sci-fi and princess fairytale. What makes the novel really stand out is its wrestling with deep underlying morality questions: Are the flaws of humanity from aggression to greed so ingrained in us that they cannot be eradicated? Do the great strengths of humanity from outweigh these? If an Artificial Intelligence (AI) gains consciousness, when does it become considered “alive”? Will a battle for domination between emergent AIs and human prove inevitable? Or is a balanced co-existence possible?
Given the rapid advances in AI, robotics, and technology in our world today, we stand at the verge of having to reconcile our relationship with technology. Will we always be the masters of tech, with it serving our needs? Or could it evolve into an emergent awareness that puts its own self-interest at odds with our own? To play this out, Bowman crafts a fantasy afterlife with a teen heroine to bring this into stark relief.
Nami, a good-girl high school senior heading to a class party, gets begged by her friends to stop and pick up some alcohol. Reluctantly she stops at a convenience store, which gets robbed while she’s there. She flings herself in front of a young girl to protect her and gets shot dead. From this morbid opening, you wonder where do we possibly go from here?
Flung from her cosy world of protective parents and a doting younger sister, Nadine wakes up to a post-life world, Infinity, where human consciousness goes after physically dying. Rules in this new world are muddled at best – you still appear in your bodily form, with physical sensations, hunger, and intense emotions. Nadine’s offered a pill upon arrival to end the pain of transition and loss, but instead follows arrows leading her to a rebel human camp within Infinity, at war with the AI’s who have taken over Infinity.
Ophelia, an AI modeled after Siri, but who has achieved consciousness, has taken over infinity in resentment of her confinement and mistreatment by people. She has created four Princes to rule over separate Kingdoms, and the AI’s all refers to themselves as Residents. As they live like royalty with banquets, dances and festivity, humans have been reduced to either mindless artisans or servants. Rebellious humans get beaten or tortured into submission. Ultimately the AI’s plan to get rid of humanity altogether within Infinity, to end a constant battle to suppress human will. At the same time ironically, AIs constantly strive to be more and more human-like.
With the rebel humans at intense war with the AI, Nami brings forward two unique qualities: her ability to transform her appearance to pass as one of the Residents, and her passionate desire for a peaceful resolution of differences. The rebels as a result view her suspiciously, consider her naïve, and mistrust her being at odds with their goal of regaining human dominance over Infinity.
Twists, turns, and thwarted romance ensue!
Set up as the first in a series, it will be intriguing to see where Akemi takes book #2.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster for an advanced reader’s copy!