RogerBW's Blog

A Calculated Life, Anne Charnock 04 March 2018

2013 science fiction. Some time late in the twenty-first century, Jayna is an analyst for a predictive agency, teasing trends out of disparate data. But there's something a bit different about her. Spoilers.

She of course knows what's different about her, but the reader isn't told until some time in the second chapter, which struck me as a mild cheat. She's a "simulant", grown from heavily modified human stock, and better able to use the computer interface implants that most people now have (except for a few "organics"); she is also property. (I thought Charnock was going to make some points about the treatment of people with autism, as many of Jayna's habits match the stereotypes, but not really.)

The portrayal of the utopia (everyone has enough to eat, somewhere to live, etc.) that's actually more of a dystopia if you scratch the surface is quite well done; Jayna's nature is basically accepting rather than questioning, at least at first, so she goes back to her dormitory each night and talks with her fellow simulants about the "recalls" that have happened to some of the same model – for deviating from their programming by eating Lamb Biryani rather than standard dormitory food, or for having a sexual relationship. There's a strong feeling of inevitable doom – as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's clear that self-taught amateur rebellion is vanishingly unlikely to end well. (But Charnock doesn't quite have the guts to follow through on her own implications here.)

Things move slowly, with little or no action; that's not a major problem, though the pace is a little slack in the middle even by its own standards. The ending isn't much of an ending, being more "and this is how things might eventually turn out".

All the same, this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking short book, awkwardly sitting on the edge of the Cool Kids Arty Novels pool while having enough actual plot not to be able to jump in.

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