VIRTUAL GIRL by Amy Thomson

21 04 2012

And the Program was made Flesh …

Virtual Girl coverI have read books, lots of books, about robots – all the Isaac Asimov robot stories for a start, including the final volumes of the great Foundation series – and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the virtually perfect film Bladerunner – but I have never come across a story of a robot that so moved me, or a robot – an android – a gynoid – I so wholly identified with.

As my fellow-reviewer on, M.B Gilbride, says on his blog “This is one book I would love to have written.” Actually, it was him who drew my attention to it. I had never come across Amy Thomson before, a real gap in my education!

The story is set in the fairly near future, at a time when any form of A.I. has been proscribed, although, of course, at certain universities such as MIT research goes on regardless. But Arnold, the son a of a super-rich industrialist, exaggerates, and is sent down.

When the book opens, he is living like a bum. His father refuses to have him in the house unless he gives up his research and his dreams and agrees to take his natural place as his father’s heir and successor. In a rented garage, he builds his masterpiece: a robot called Maggie, programmed to be the perfect companion. And I do not mean sex partner. On the contrary, although she is a woman, perfect in every detail, she has not been programmed for sex. Does not understand it. Our Arnold is a bit of a prude.

The description of her first faltering steps when he downloads her into her body, and the incident of sensory overload the first time he takes her out in the street, have no equal in SF so far as I am aware. And it is the fact that she has to deal with the sensory overload herself, reprogram herself to deal with the problem, that starts her on the road to autonomy. Freedom.

I am not going to tell you what happens, just that it is one of those books that keeps getting better and better and better. By page 150, you are open-mouthed. By page 200, you know you have never read anything loike this before.

Read it. Please.

Then, of course, I wanted to know: who is Amy Thomson and what else has she written? And a friend of mine I mentioned her to had a copy of Storyteller. I haven’t started it yet, but it looks exactly my cup of tea. Here’s the cover. You see what I mean?

Storyteller cover




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