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This is an incredible little novella from Subterranean Press, quite stunningly up to - if not exceeding - the standards set by Ted Chiang in Stories of Your Lives. Thoughts on artificial intelligence, the development of emotion and indeed maturity, the raising and education of children - human or otherwise, and on love are wonderfully put across; and yet, the intellectual content never overwhelms but instead compliments the joy of the essentially human characters (the "digients" as much as the homo sapiens).

Chiang's novella, rather like his short stories, is really about the characters.  All of them - especially Ana, Jax, Derek, Marco and Polo - are wonderfully portrayed; we see them through the eyes, mostly, of Ana and Derek, and through them a whole host of other characters are introduced to the reader and we learn about their inter-relations through the interactions of Ana, Derek, and the digients mostly.  Chiang's story is incredibly well written; despite never seeing other characters, we really get a strong sense of them, and their effects on others - it's beautifully human.

The setting is also wonderful; it's very believable - a sort of Second Life taken further, not the cyberpunk of (for instance) William Gibson but a more idealised setting, though nothing like Star Trek either. The technology is believable and well-dealt with, and the corporations are still very corporate (with some exceptions, which seem to have more cares for people than others).  It's never described in immense detail, but as an extension of modern virtual worlds - World of Warcraft especially - it's a nicely done one.

Finally, the plot; there's two plots, really - the struggle of the humans in preserving their digients (artificial intelligences with cute, childlike avatars) and the raising of those digients themselves.  The two come together to form a sort of third plot of the relationship between Ana and Derek, which is interesting and very heartfelt; Chiang makes the three plots work incredibly well, and makes the reader believe that the author could have been through it all - as either Derek or Ana.  The last moments of the story are incredibly heartbreaking, and it builds up to a powerful, awful end.

All in all, Chiang has kept to his incredible standards with an amazing, wonderful novella.  Absolutely unbelievably brilliant. I recommend it widely.


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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