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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Body Electric

****½ Body Electric by Susan Squires. Science fiction.

Victoria Barnhardt is a computer genius, and she's been secretly working on developing true A.I. (artificial intelligence). She succeeds with a program she names "Jodie," which becomes self-aware. To the point that Jodie decides he's male rather than the female personality Vic thought she'd designed him with.

Things quickly spiral out of control--Vic's job is in jeopardy, and she has to hide Jodie from her unscrupulous employer, who'll steal and exploit Jodie. But now that Jodie's self-aware, he has a personality and feelings she needs to take into account.

Eventually, Jodie needs a body--and he finds one, leading to more complications.

Body Electric is a fabulous, edge-of-your-seat story. I did have a little trouble warming up to Vic initially--particularly her sexist attitudes: she seemed to simultaneously emulate men and despise them. But that didn't last long. Once she succeeded in creating Jodie, the story took off and I had no more objections.

In addition to exciting suspense, and fascinating, Hollywood-esque technology, there's also the question of what it means to be human. In that way, this is very similar to many older, classic science fiction books about robots or computer programs. The basic story has been told before, but this one is well-written, and it's a story worth revisiting.

In fact, I think Vic's prickliness and gender problems kept Body Electric from being just another run-of-the-mill AI story. Falling in love with Jodie, and her resulting mixed emotions about that, are more real, and make more sense than if she'd been more well-adjusted to begin with.

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