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Artificial Love: Klara and the Sun & Her

1 Sep

So often when we think of Robots in the future, it is of scenes like in the Matrix when they have taken over and controlling the world.  But what if the Robots could turn out to be the more compassionate ones?  Could there be a future that people form bonds not with each other, but with Robots or other forms of AI (Artificial Intelligence)?

Klara and the Sun

Though it was our pick for our August Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion, Klara and the Sun featuring a peak at AI in the future, is one of those books that will appeal to more than just Science Fiction fans; fans of literary fiction will also find a lot to enjoy. 

In the novel Klara is an AF or artificial friend.  She starts the novel in a store interacting with other AFs and the storeowner.  She is solar powered, and quickly picks up new information from those around her.  The story picks up as Klara is adopted by a sickly girl named Josie. 

There is something very simple about the way the novel is delivered from Klara’s limited childlike perspective and yet so much complexity is hinted at in the story that is going on in the wider world.  Klara despite being a robot often seems to have more compassion and sympathy than the humans in the novel. 

I was intrigued to hear what the book discussion group thought of the work and was pleased that they also had enjoyed the work a lot.  We had a great discussion about the future of AI and what it means for society.

Her

Before we discussed Klara and the Sun our book group watched the movie Her starring Joaquin Phoenix.  This was our first movie screening together since Covid and it was great to share a film again that tied to the book we had read this month. The movie was complimentary in that it also involved an artificial intelligence, in this case a Siri or Alexa like virtual personal assistant named Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. 

Her won an academy award for Best Screen Play.  The group was less enthralled with Her than by Klara and the Sun, but we still had a lively discussion related to some topics it brought up.  Although in the case of Her it is a romantic relationship, rather than a friendship, between Theodore and Samantha, the movie touches on many of the same themes as the novel that are brought up about loneliness, humanity, and the place an AI might have in what has become a society centered on the hot new thing and disposability.

If you would like to join us for fun and friendly book discussions and screenings of great movies, sign up for the mailing list for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group by email hplwriters@gmail.com!  Our next book will be the first in my personal favorite Steampunk series, Soulless, by Gail Carriger.  Soulless is a delightful brew of gaslight fantasy, humor, and romance so check it out and let us know what you think!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

Shaping the Universe: Sundiver and Victories Greater than Death

14 Jul

I remember one of the things that always stood out to me while watching the Star Trek series was the idea of the prime directive, the idea that the spacefaring societies tried to avoid interactions with the groups still developing so that those species would be able to create their own societal values and beliefs without being influenced by more advanced groups.  But what if one were to imagine a very different situation where more advanced civilizations purposely manipulated other intelligent groups.  Two novels that examine this possibility are Sundiver by David Brin and Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders.

Sundiver by David Brin
Sundiver was Brin’s first book in his Uplift trilogy.  In the universe of the novel, humans are an anomaly, in that there is no record of them being “uplifted” by another intelligent group.  Most alien species have been assisted through genetic manipulation and other techniques to advance by other species.  Humans have “uplifted” dolphins and apes on earth.  Although humans treat those that they have uplifted as equal, in most of the universe the uplifted groups are treated as being indentured and owing the more advanced group that helped shape them.  The alien species in the novel are vividly described and although they are all able to communicate due to technology, they are vastly different in shape, for example one looks like a giant tree and another looks like a teddy bear with tentacles.  There is a mystery in the novel that slowly unfolds about a sabotaged mission to our sun, where it is believed aliens might have secretly been living for centuries.  We read Sundiver for our June HPL Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group and the members thought the book still felt fresh and enjoyable even though it was published in 1980.  You can join us in July for a discussion of Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson in Church Square Park. You can borrow Darwinia and Sundiver in print from the Hoboken Public Library or as an ebook from elibraryNJ (log in with your HPL library card for access).

Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Victories Greater than Death is Charlie Jane Anders first in her new Unstoppable YA series.  It starts with a teen on earth who has been waiting for years for her true destiny.  Despite looking like a normal American teen, Tina, is secretly an alien clone of a fierce warrior who is the only hope of stopping an evil space force.  Along with her best friend, she also recruits a diverse group of teens from around earth to help on the mission.  Issues of gender, class, and identity are all examined.  One reoccurring theme is that early on in the Universe a group described as the shapers chose to help intelligent symmetrical bipedal groups, but held back groups that did not meet these standards.  The assumption at first is that this may have been due to prejudice by the shapers, but as the book continues a darker motivation is possibly uncovered.  The sequel, Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak is scheduled to come out at the beginning of April 2022.  You can check out our previous review of Anders’s adult novel All the Birds in the Sky (another of our book club picks) here.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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