Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan [8/10]

Can Ian McEwan, author of some especially fine literary novels, tackle science fiction? In “Machines Like Me,” a geeky failure in his own mind, Charlie, besotted with younger neighbor Miranda, is one of twenty-five people across the globe to buy the first real humanoids. Charlie and Miranda each program half of perfect Adam’s personality, and McEwan quickly plunges the threesome into a domestic maelstrom of sex, love, a murky past, and attempted adoption of a waif. All of this in an alterna-historical setting of 1980s Britain in which the Falklands War is lost and Alan Turing still lives. The author needs to cover plenty of ground and in less skilful hands, the explication of this imagined world and Adam’s nature would weigh down the plot, but McEwan is masterful. From the outset, the core theme of the book relates to how robots, when they’re indistinguishable from humans, will use their vastly superior mental processing to negotiate a human-filled world, and I was delighted by how deeply “Machines Like Me” delves. I suspect many sci-fi readers, among which I count myself, will point to far bolder and transgressive examinations of future ages of machines, but to my mind this novel hits the spot, zooming futureward just far enough to ask questions the next generation might well face. A triumph.

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