The artificial intelligence once known as Lovelace suffers a total system shut-down, and upon reboot, she has no memory of her previous life. She knows she belongs in a ship, so when she wakes up in a body per the request of her previous self, she must find herself and negotiate the world from a very limited vantage point. Pepper, an enthusiastic engineer, adopts Lovelace and aids her quest to learn and grow in a new body.
This standalone sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is very similar in tone to its predecessor, but the theme of AI consciousness is not only more interesting, but explored from different perspectives in a dual-character study. Lovelace is an AI attempting to live an (illegal) existence in a body, posing as a human, as her previous self wanted. I love her struggles with not having instant access to the internet or multiple visual inputs through cameras, so that she takes to standing on tables in the corners of rooms to recreate security camera vision. I love that her new body has all kinds of emotions that she does not know how to process logically.
And then there’s Pepper’s backstory, told in alternating chapters, of her upbringing as a genetically-manipulated and lab-grown human clone, raised in what is essentially a slave labor camp maintained by robots, until she escapes and finds refuge and a new home in an abandoned space ship with a friendly AI. Both character arcs are excellent and moving searches for identity, creating a life out of nothing, and living life to the fullest.
Arguably, one of the most revered aspects of these novels is how nice and accommodating everyone is to one another. I find it both refreshing and annoying, since very little dramatic tension arises from such friendly interpersonal relationships. In fact, there aren’t many external pressures that create suspense, and the plotting is easily the weak link of this series. One missed opportunity in particular is that both Lovelace and Pepper are illegals of some kind, but there are no close calls with the authorities.
Recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy warm fuzzy feelings!
“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.”