Artificial Absolutes by Mary Fan

For the second book in my Transhumanism season, we’re taking a detour from human-enhancement into human-replacement technology.

artificial absolutes

What kind of blockhead randomly decides to propose and rushes to ask immediately? Sarah deserved better. She deserved something thoughtful, something that had taken effort.

Devin took the ring box out of his pocket and opened it, then looked around the apartment. How she kept everything so pristine was beyond him. Other than the digimech she’d left on, everything was where it ought to be. Sarah was like that in every aspect, flawless except for some quirk that made her all the more perfect in his eyes. Every hair in place, except for the one lock falling beside her face. Always precisely four minutes late. Her apartment decorated so crisply it might have been done by a computer but for a bizarre painting that appeared to represent some form of bird.

There was nothing out of which he could fashion a romantic scene. Sarah had professed many times that, in spite of the cynicism of modern times, she was still an idealistic dreamer who loved the sweet formulae of yesteryear. So what the hell was he doing with nothing but a ring and a question?

For siblings Devin and Jane, the wealth and privilege of their upbringing is overshadowed by their parents’ wish to control every aspect of their lives. Jane wants nothing more than to be a singer, but that isn’t considered an appropriate career, and she’s pushed towards an unsatisfying role in the family company. For Devin, youthful rebellion manifests in his becoming an elite hacker with a reputation in the cybercrime community — but by the start of the book those days are behind him and he’s preparing to settle down with the perfect, thoroughly suitable Sarah.

When Devin proposes, though, Sarah freezes. This isn’t the startled pause of a woman taken aback by a romantic gesture: her eyes go blank, every muscle apparently in stasis. Devin, his suspicions aroused, digs out some of his old hacker contacts and sets about asking furtive questions about artificial intelligence and human-looking robotics.

Meanwhile, Jane drops in to visit her boyfriend, only to see him being carted off by unusual-looking robots. When she tries to report what she’s seen, her concerns are dismissed. Adam, she’s told, is on a religious retreat. He can’t be disturbed, but he’s safe. The authorities throw doubt on Jane’s sanity and stability, but she trusts the evidence of her own eyes.

Artificial Absolutes follows Jane and Devin as they start to search out what has happened to their respective partners, in a journey that takes them across space, through the depths of the criminal underworld, and into a world of high commerce and forbidden technologies. What they find isn’t what they expected, and opens up questions about the nature of humanity and consciousness. To say too much would be to spoil the delightful plot twists, but it’s wonderfully done.

Artificial Absolutes is available from Amazon; the sequel, Synthetic Illusions, is also out now.

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