I so seldom have an opportunity to use the word sardonic to describe anything anymore. It gives me a thrill to be able to use it wholeheartedly to describe the humor in Edward of Planet Earth by author Nicholas Eftimiades.
The novel is Douglas Adams influenced Science Fiction with an occasional tip of the hat to Jonathon Swift and Terry Pratchett. There is a plot. Things happen. However, this story is all about the social commentary, asides, and “historical background” provided by the narrative voice and not so much about the actions of the characters. Know this going in and you will probably enjoy this novel. You may even enjoy it immensely. However, if you are the kind of reader who needs a fast-paced storyline with constant action, look elsewhere for your next adventure.
In between the asides, we meet Edward Temple, Everyman of the future, whose life ends up taking an unexpected side trip during a clinical visit to an ailing supercomputer named Mega Brain. A routine human-to-AI link undertaken in Edward’s role as a synthetic life surgeon results in both Edward blacking out and, impossibly, the death of the machine. After he is released from the hospital to a clean bill of health and the continuing mystery of Mega Brain’s demise, the lingering effects of the event push Edward down a path of romance, danger, intrigue, and potential enlightenment.
In Eftimiades’ world of the future, computers have the same rights as human beings. “Synthetic life” has long incorporated the ability to learn, change, and interact in the same way human beings do. Computers have unique personalities, unique names, and the same unique emotional idiosyncrasies as their human counterparts. In this world, computers can be generous, caring, jealous, rebellious, make bad jokes, and search for a higher meaning. Like humans, they are inclined to create god in their own image. Not only that, but some of them have the hubris to believe that they can prove their god’s existence.
Because of his absolute averageness, Edward has been chosen by a group of powerful computers for the unenviable task of being the means toward obtaining this existential truth. He and his newfound lady friend, Amanda, go on the run to meet with each of these powerful computers, guided first by Edward’s dreams and inexplicable behaviors, and then finally, the knowledge of what has been driving him. As the tale progresses, in a moment of delightful dramatic irony, Edward is elevated to the role of prophet by the human religious leaders who have been pursuing him in an attempt to determine exactly what he is up to and whether or not it will disturb their power base and pocket-books.
I truly enjoyed Edward of Planet Earth. It’s the kind of SciFi that keeps me resident in the SciFi camp. Eftimiades (whose credentials on the book’s topics are unimpeachable) uses his comprehensive knowledge of science, politics, and sociocultural phenomena to incisively skewer human foibles and institutions on a grand scale.
My criticisms of the book are minor. First, there were asides that were either tangential to the story at hand or too long for the subject matter. These sections slowed the story down. At times, I found myself wishing the author had skipped the insights and gotten on with it, particularly as the action heated up toward the end.
Second, I found many of the machines to be more interestingly characterized than Edward and Amanda. While neither of the main characters were flat or emotionless, I never managed to feel emotionally connected to them. Fortunately, emotional attachment to the characters is not necessary for the enjoyment of the book; the outcome is an intellectual payoff rather than an emotional one. It ends exactly as it should.
Do I recommend the book? I do. I give it a big thumbs up. At $2.99, it is an inexpensive and enjoyable read. With a word count slightly above 130,000, it will keep you entertained for a long time. Additionally, although the book requires you to think, you’ll be smirking while you do it. It doesn’t require you to work too hard for your fun.