Long, long ago in a primitive technological culture, a man dreamed of intelligent robots who help us. He even invented rules for them and this is all familiar to anyone who has read Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories written in the 1950’s. Many years passed and as technology evolved, so did its fictional counterpart so that in the 1980’s William Gibson with his Neuromancer trilogy introduces us to the concept of cyberspace and in particular to the idea that one’s consciousness could exist outside the physical body inside vast intricately designed computer networks as a sort of real time avatar. These works are considered classics addressing the question of Artificial Intelligence.
Catherynne Valente imagines a world where the household computer is also a teacher, a friend and in some cases an accomplice against its own creation. There is so much that is remarkable about her vision. Her artificial intelligence, named Elefsis comes to know the inner (interior in the book) worlds of many generations of the same family. As each interfaces, they leave imprints and memories so that as times passes for Elefsis, those who die remain the same within his databanks. He, I can’t say ‘it’, suffers from minor disruptions whenever an update is run against his core. He is the same and is not and he is aware of this.
Now all this probably sounds dry and boring. It is not. It is beautifully written, giving us a completely new slant on the idea of alone and sharp observations concerning the real nature of the human mind. Because I think her prose speaks better than my description, here is a short sample.
‘I am dreaming. I stand on the beach of the honey-colored sea. I stand so Neva will see me on her viney porch. I erase the land between the waves and her broken wooden stairs. I dress myself in her beloved troubadour’s skin: a gold and blue doublet and green hose, a bullish golden nose ring, shoes with bone bells. I am a fool for her.’
This is easily the best book I have read this year and now on my top ten list.