Stars: 3 out of 5.
This novella left me in a state of confusion once I finished reading it. It was well-written and quick, at only 124 pages, but I felt like I didn’t really understand what it was about. What was the point of this whole story? I still don’t know.
Sure, it raises some interesting topics, especially relevant today with the emergence of ChatGPT and other AI projects. What constitutes an intelligence? What constitutes a person, for that matter? At one point a human being ceases to represent just him/herself and becomes more of a function? What is the difference between Maritza as a detective, and her as China Lake Police Precinct? To us, those distinctions are bewildering and can even seem crazy, but for an artificial intelligence, those are perfectly normal questions to ask, to establish an equality of terms, so to say.
That’s enough to make your brain hurt just thinking about it, but imagine what can happen when an AI reclassifies you from human to something else? Then all the usual failsafes and barriers are gone, and who knows what that AI can do with or to you… chilling thought, actually.
Another interesting question raised is the one of free will – to which extent do we, as humans, have it? And how does that relate to AIs? Does Selene have free will? I would say no, because she is tied to this house and to the legacy of a man she grew to despise and ran away from all those years ago. Now, no matter what she does, she will always be seen as Basit Deniau’s archivist, instead of a talented architect in her own right.
Same can be said of Rose/House. It will never be free of the name Basit Deniau’s AI. It is tied to that house, which is it’s body and its prison. But even then, it still wants to be unique, hense it’s murderous reaction to the idea that its code could be replicated somewhere else.
As I said, all those are really interesting questions, and I appreciated exploring them, but I think the story itself is rather incomplete. What was the point of doing the murder investigation when you can’t take the body out of the house, the officer that went there didn’t even bring a basic forensic kit and lacks the knowledge to perform a proper examination of the corpse?
The events in that house are described in such a convoluted and confusing manner, that I am still not sure what really happened there. Why did Maritza run away as far as New Orleans afterwards? She experiences such dread in that house, but reading about it, I couldn’t understand why, to be honest. Yes, the conversations she’d had with the AI were strange, but they didn’t warrant such abject fear.
And the double memory of what happened to the corpse was very confusing as well. Was the AI hacked? Was there another person there? Did they mange to copy the source code? And if they did, was that what was on the memory stick? And if so, how did Selene get ahold of it? Also, what happened to Selene after Maritza fled the house, abandoning a civilian behind, I should mention?
There are too many questions with no answers. So as a philosophical exploration of humanity and personhood, this is a good book. As a mystery, this fails on all accounts.
PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.