Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review:Zendyne by Han Li Thorn Aka Better Than Real by Huw Lyan Thomas

Zendyne by Han Li Thorn Aka Better Than Real by Huw Lyan Thomas

I'm not even certain where I acquired the original.

There were formatting problems and that might have been why I didn't get to it right away. That was in June of 2012. Here it is ten months later and I'm just getting to it. This time I started reading despite the formatting problems. I should have done that the first time around. The good news is that I believe those problems went away with the new edition Better Than Real by Huw Lyan Thomas

The plot relies on a theme that shows up often lately. The characters live in a digitized world where the person's DNA and memories can be stored easily making death only an issue if you can't afford the backups. I've seen this recently in a few novels -Charles Stoss Accelerando (Singularity) and Walter Jon Williams Implied Spaces(Singularity) Those both involved matrioshka computer arrays and lots of cyberspace inferences. The cyberspace of course covers just about anything by William Gibson.

There are no evident matrioshka computer arrays here, but there are plenty of the other elements. And the major AI character in those other two is the self aware cat where this one is a self aware android that happens to look female.

My first real love in the area of cyberspace is Philip K. Dick and I think that this novel by whatever name will smell the same.

This novel brings back to my mind the authenticity of the characters in most of the novels PK Dick wrote. I think that may be the idea that the characters stay as the focus no matter how interesting the technology gets. Sure there's some fun with the techno-speak of Charles Stross and there's always something stimulating with William Gibson's in-depth notion of how the digital world works or how the use of nano technology looks up close and personal in Walter Jon Williams. Sometimes these novels border on the dystopic myopia of the digital age gone wild. Zendyne- Better Than Real does not suffer from this shortsightedness that constantly make the characters second to the technology that drive them to the ultimate conclusion.

Make no mistake these things are all there and they try to manipulate the protagonists in the story.

If I have one quibble with these stories - it would be that while swapping around consciousness and bodies there is never any time dwelt upon the notion of a soul and what makes up a soul and whether it might be digitized. The bottom line is that even if you could back yourself up what guarantee is there that the soul the you that makes you you is still going to be there. In this novel it seems implied that if you have the same body - coded DNA- and the digitized memory that you have everything you need. Someone might lose only what they experienced the last few cycles since the last backup taken.

As we come come up into this story Li Jia Wei or Lee as he is known arrives at the scene of a crime- only for him its the scene of an incident that could make things bad for the company he works for. The crime is that in this world he and the company are going to try to cover it up by whatever means- which involves recruiting anyone at the scene who might let the story leak.

The Problem is that one of their pleasure android models has somehow gone haywire and killed a client. Not good PR to have that get out to other clients and potential clients. When Lee arrives he find Lilith of the Aphrodite 9400 series waiting. His job is simple; he uses his disruptor to disable her so the cleanup crew can clean the mess. Lilith pleads with him not to do that and in a very short conversation he discovers that she is somehow become self aware. This fascinates him, partially because he's the major designer of this model and he knows that it couldn't just become self aware on its own. He would like some answers both professionally and partly for his own self profit. This leads to his downloading the mind of the android prior to the shutdown. The android has already told him that when he shuts it down the self aware entity in her will be destroyed.

Down loading the mind, to preserve it and allow him to question it about who is responsible for its existence Lee returns to the office to find that someone has leaked the story and that his job and position with Zendyne has been cancels. What he is not aware of is that there is another organization which cleans things up in a much more terminal way and that he's become marked. Unsure what to do next he manages to purchase the previous model android with the notion that he can download the mind of Lilith and question her about her creators with a hope that Lee may profit from this.

Enter the Stranger- an operative for the Back Office whose job is to find the rogue AI and retrieve it and kill anyone who gets in the way. Even though in this world people can be brought back the Back Office has the power to subvert that if necessary. The Stranger is meant to act quickly enough that anyone brought back would have no memory of anything related to the AI.

This is when things get interesting.

We start to get an up close look at the high and low ends of the economic scale and how these have an affect on the whole system of extended life through digital reproduction. There are some interesting spots where the characters try to subvert the system because they realize that there is a potential for them to lose control of who they are by letting their backups fall into the wrong hands.

I loved this story-even with the older versions formatting issues. This book is for lovers of Science Fiction, Cyberspace cyberpunk, Robotics and mayhem, AI and self aware computers, and the future general of computers and the digital age in general.

It's well worth the price; with plenty of action, suspense and twists.

J.L. Dobias

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