RogerBW's Blog

The Mad Scientist's Daughter, Cassandra Rose Clarke 29 July 2016

2013 science fiction/romance. Finn is a robot who looks and acts human; he arrives in young Cat Novak's life as her tutor, and stays as the years pass.

There's a really fascinating story going on here, about prejudice against AIs turning into grudging legal recognition of their personhood, with a strong side note about the ethics of building machines that are just not conscious enough to qualify as people, and another one about ecological disaster averted. But we catch only glimpses of each, because the story is told entirely from Cat's viewpoint, and she's just not terribly interested.

The plot we actually get is a tragic and angst-ridden romance, and Cat just isn't terribly sympathetic; she eventually comes to realise that she isn't entirely perfect, but she's a user of people, barely less so by the end of the book than at the beginning. She's incurious, she goes with the flow rather than exert herself in the slightest, and she casually sabotages her life by failing to think about the consequences of what she's about to do. She does approximately two things that show any sign of independent thought during the entire book, which spans something like twenty-five years.

Mind you, this is apparently a world in which second-wave feminism never happened (even though abortifacients are available on demand). The only other female character is Cat's mother, and she's mostly there to be an obstruction; she's undeveloped, like all the characters except Cat really. Finn is at first entirely without feelings; everyone else in the book has rather less excuse for acting like robots with cosmetic personality overlays. Yeah, I'm glad that this is a story about a young girl growing up rather than a young boy, since we're already oversupplied with the latter sort of story and few of them say anything new, but that isn't enough to sustain my interest as things get slower and slower.

World-building seems to have been of secondary importance. To pick just one example, I'm quite happy that legal "papers" are signed electronically, and I can just barely accept that they might be sent by courier rather than Internet though nobody ever mentions why; but I can't bring myself to believe that the futuristic equivalent of a USB stick will be called a "hard drive".

I found this rather a grind and, in the end, not really worth the effort. It had nothing new to say about the AI rights that form one of the ribs of the plot, and with only minor changes could have been set in the 1850s-1860s in the southern USA with the white heroine falling in love with a black man.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 01:46pm on 29 July 2016

    And yet for all that it is what it is, I much preferred this to Madeline Ashby's book that pretty much covers the same area. Perhaps it's the ending, though to be honest I had to skip to the ending of VN, which convinced me not to carry on.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:06pm on 29 July 2016

    Both of them are basically tales of allegory and don't really attempt to be any sort of hard SF, which is a thing that rubs me slightly wrong. I mean, sure, if you want to tell your fairy-tale about androids rather than ensorcelled knights, I'm not going to say you shouldn't, but if you're going to use words that have specific technical meanings it should, I think, be for more than mere window-dressing.

  3. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:16pm on 29 July 2016

    I agree, and if sold as such we could make an informed choice. Ah well, it just means I shall think twice about buying either author again.

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