Tag Archives: Speculative fiction

Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me


Charlie Friend is 32 and he is dissatisfied with his life. As a day trader, he hardly makes any money. He is an anthropology graduate, but his life has been built on a succession of schemes that never fully succeeded. He befriends a neighbour, a history graduate student called Melinda.

The story is set in the 80s, during the Thatcher years, not in present time, so advancement in machine learning and robotics would not be common knowledge. However, Charlie has had a bit of interest in the subject, even publishing a book on it.

At about the same time Charlie and Melinda become more intimate, Charlie acquires an humanoid robot, with the money he inherited from his mother. Charlie decides to share the robot, Adam, with Melinda. The introduction of Adam in the story becomes a good ploy to explore several aspects of human nature, ethical dilemmas, and issues of free will and agency.

It turns out that Melinda hides a big secret which suddenly changes the course of the story (and started making it much more interesting to me).

In the end, neither the world, nor the technology, appear to be ready for completely autonomous humanoid beings, but this book raises interesting questions. I think this book would foster lively discussion in a book club.

McEwan, Ian. Machines Like Me. Penguin Random House, 2019.

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Siobhan Adcock, The Completionist


I always enjoy an interesting work of speculative fiction. This one did not disappoint. It is set at an indeterminate time in the future, in the United States. Environmental changes have made water a scarce and costly resource which must be produced in a distant location and transported through disputed territory. This has led to long term warfare that is destroying a generation of young men. We have following the personal struggles of one of them. But the main concern of the book is for the work and mission of “completionists”, nurses who accompany women undergoing artificial insemination, or who miraculously get pregnant naturally. The birth rate has plummeted and children have become so precious that strict protocols must be followed by women to care for themselves and their offspring under threat of large fines. The sister of the young man I referred to before is such a nurse and another sister gets pregnant. This is the perfect pretext to explore all the issues of the ethics of completion work, the constraints on pregnant women and mothers, and of the personal consequences of war such as PTSD and contamination by chemical warfare agents. This novel is loaded with issues, and its a good story.

Thanks to the publisher for making this novel available through Net Galley. It became available on June 19, 2018.


Adcock, Siobhan. The Completionist. Simon & Shuster, 2018.

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The Completionist

Margaret Atwoodd and Madd Addam


I was really looking forward to this book, in part because of the cool title and in part because Margaret Atwood is my all-time favorite author. This book was a delight to read. I am not sure it would completely make sense to those who have not first read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, in spite of the synopses given at the beginning of Madd Addam. The book jacket calls this series “speculative fiction”, as if not all fiction was speculative, but I would call it right out “science fiction”. It is very much about scientific manipulations gone wrong.

First, Crake creates a new human race with slightly different characteristics from homo sapiens. They get referred to as the “Crakers”. They are gently and helpful, can communicate with other life forms in ways human beings cannot, do not know jealousy or hatred, and have no taste for violence. It makes them vulnerable to manipulation because of their trusting nature. One of their most endearing features is their ability to purr, which they use to comfort others when they are unhappy or ill. This purring makes others feel better. They also love to sing but their singing is described as eerie and somewhat annoying to humans. Hence, we find this series of statements, often repeated in the book:

Please stop singing.

Please don’t sing yet.

Please don’t sing.

You do not have to sing.

These injunctions usually appear as single-sentence paragraphs so they really stand out. It gets to be really funny. The Crakers like to sing to express emotion, to comfort themselves and others, to celebrate meaningful moments. In fact, they like to sing a lot. They are also very gullible and do not understand irony and figures of speech. A lot of the humor in the book comes from misunderstandings between humans and Crakers. As a scientific experiment, the Crakers do not seem to be the future of human kind, even though they were conceived as an improvement.

Second, most the human population gets wiped out by an invisible plague. This happens in The Year of the Flood. In Madd Addam, we find out about one mechanism used to disseminate the plague agent, which was to include it in another seemingly innocuous pharmaceutical product.

Third, genetically engineered life forms that appear in the trilogy are usually more threatening than useful, such as giant pigoons (my spell-checker keeps wanting to change that to pigeons), wolvogs, and liobams. Only the dumb and cuddly rakunk is used as a pet. In the end though, the humans create an alliance with the giant pigoons with the help of a Craker interpreter in order to rid the area of two hardened murderers that are threatening them.

As speculative fiction, the book is a thought-experiment about how people can deal with crisis situations and survival in a harsh and unpredictable environment. The survivors should a great deal of resilience and survive through collaboration and altruism. If there is to be an overarching moral theme to this book, it may be that one can survive almost anything, but that one does not survive alone. And not without humor.