Paperback, US, 400 pages
Expected publication: January 29th 2013 by Angry Robot
Source: Net Galley
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is the heartbreaking story of the journey from childhood to adulthood, with an intriguing science fictional twist.
There’s never been anyone – or anything – quite like Finn.
He looks, and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is to tutor Cat.
When the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.
This was not an easy novel to read on many accounts. In fact, I still don’t quite know how I feel about it.
The biggest problem I had was the pacing. The novel, instead of occurring within a set of period of time, follows Cat, the titular daughter, from a very young age until she is in her mid-thirties (or so I deduced from the amount of time that had passed). Events occurred and then recurred and things just seemed to go around a circle without any progress being made. It felt that we (the readers) continued to see Cat make mistakes, choose the wrong thing over and over again. This is not to imply that there wasn’t internal progress being made, there was, but it just made for very frustrating reading.
It is fascinating to see the gradual progression of feelings that Cat has for Finn. From feeling revulsion for him to being unable to stop thinking about him to denying she feels anything for him. Her conflict is pretty easy to understand: how can you be in love with a thing, a thing that looks, talks and breathes like a person but at the end of the day, is not a person. A thing that does not have a soul or even a heart or even emotions. How can you feel and love something like that?
The book engages in themes of the meaning of humanity. What does being human mean? What is a human being? These are all questions I think we’ll be grappling with in the future if sentient robots are created. When Finn finds his emotions, learns to think and perhaps to feel, does he cross some boundary and become human? The sex troubled me the most, to be honest. Cat orders him to sleep with her and he does. I wondered whether it was a violation of sorts. Finn cannot really refuse, right? He has to obey and so he does. Is that a violation of his body? What am I supposed to think about Cat who uses him to sate her desire for a man she can never have?
At the climax, after that long (extended) journey through Cat’s lives, being with her as she married the wrong man, made the wrong decisions and mourned the people she loved, seeing her almost within the grasp of happiness is a strange feeling. She has learned a lot, grown from the little girl who thought Finn was a ghost. The novel is strange, clunky and yet all the more readable for it. It asks some very difficult questions and while it doesn’t expect any clear answers, it does expect that you, the reader, will think about the questions it raises. Finn may be a fictional character and his life may be the product of an author’s imagination but there is no guarantee that such a situation will never arise in reality. How will we feel about robots who look, feel and think like humans but aren’t really humans? Can you love something like that? Should you be allowed to? I don’t know. I really don’t.
I think you should read the book. Make up your own mind. Think your own thoughts about it. And then come talk to me about them.