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Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

15 Mar 2020

Review: Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Emily is a uniquely complex being; an artificial consciousness designed by a team at a prestigious university. Her purpose is to learn, adapt, and help mankind, and she accomplishes this through acting like a human, and interacting with other humans. While Emily lacks a physical body, this is not a problem; to interact with her, a user places a chip on their skin which allows Emily to appear to them as a three-dimensional being, through electronic impulses sent to their brain.

Despite Emily’s rapid development in a short space of time, through her access to every kind of technology and data stream, she will never get a chance to reach her full potential. This is not because of a lack of funds or know-how on the part of her team; sadly, it’s because the sun is dying, and with it, the world. Science may have evolved enough to create a consciousness from nothing, but not enough to prevent the sun from dying. It’s only a matter of time before Emily, and the world she is just discovering, are extinguished forever.

Emily Eternal is your quintessential science fiction, in which anything is possible, and no aspect of the narrative is restricted – however, it does conform to common themes in the genre – in a world at its end without hope, science tries to save the day while humanity becomes slowly dehumanized. The concept of an artificial intelligence further allows for rapid character development, learning, and change, which makes for a fantastic narrative, where the reader can quite easily suspend their disbelief.

Despite the book’s nod to sci-fi tropes, Wheaton does not take cliched routes well worn by other writers of science fiction and AI – we are given a unique, refreshing, and inspiring story that illuminates the beauty of mankind through the perspective of an other. this is balanced by a horde of impressive and creative science, which is as fun as it is cool. In addition, the harshness of traditional science fiction is softened by the human (or artificial human) elements of emotion and relationships – in learning to navigate the human psyche, Emily learns that there is more to humanity than the wonders of its biology. In short, this book has a bit of everything – from the intellectual to the emotional – and is an adventure from the start.

Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

4 Mar 2020

Review: The Heavens by Sandra Newman

Kate and Ben met at a party and took an immediate liking to each other; it was the start of an astonishing relationship. Kate was just the free, fun-loving and unusual person Ben didn’t realise he was looking for until he found her. Kate’s quirks even included repeatedly dreaming about being another woman, Emilia, living in the seventeenth century. Over time, her experiences as Emilia begin to affect her life as Kate, including her relationship with Ben.

In living as Emilia while she sleeps and travelling back in time, Kate has the ability to change the course of history through her every action – a heavy burden to bear, particularly if you’re the only one who remembers how everything was before. To her, navigating two timelines is a constantly evolving dance requiring immense skill, but to her friends, Kate seems to be losing her mind.

The Heavens features the best supporting literary cast I’ve come across in some time; quirky minor characters that really help to bring the story to life – from mail order brides to political wunderkinds, this story has them all. It’s actually deeply reminiscent of a feel-good sitcom, until it isn’t.

I’m a lover of unexpected plot devices, and I must say that Newman impressed me with the addition of time travel. This is an ingenious way to work more complex, meaningful stories into an everyday romcom, with fascinating results. Not one for romance, I nevertheless loved this book – a touching, proper ol’ feel good romance that is challenged by weighty topics such as equality, privilege, beliefs, and sanity. All in all, this is a good book with a great plot; what’s not to love?

The Heavens by Sandra Newman is published by Granta, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.