‘The Mad Scientist’s Daughter’ by Cassandra Rose Clarke (of ‘The Assassin’s Curse’ fame) is a coming of age story set in the unspecified future of America that captured my interested as soon as it spoke of the destruction of Australia and how we were replaced by AI computers until we were able to repopulate once again, along with the rest of the world.
Cat(erina Novak) is the daughter of a scientist and cyberneticist, however numbers only jumble in front of her eyes and science is simply tolerable. What Cat really likes is stories, art and being outside in the woods and garden instead. When her father brings home an android called Finn, she first thinks he must be a ghost, but taking him to the local cemetery doesn’t seem to help him find his way home. Then her parents say he’s going to be their tutor (as the local school isn’t very good) and she accepts it only because he knows many stories and still lets her run wild in the woods in the mornings at least.
Cat’s family live remotely and she doesn’t meet anyone her own age until she reaches high school, so until then she and Finn become close. He talks to her like her parents never do, and is unable to get frustrated with her, and doesn’t despair over the fact she doesn’t know algebra at 10 years old.
Finn looks human and his smile almost seems real – he’s one of a kind. Most androids and robots in the increasingly split world population aren’t as fine-tuned as he is, but they’re still obtaining rights around the world thanks to government rights and activists, but Cat doesn’t care for all that. He’s her friend, and he’s always there when she needs him most – when she’s in trouble – when she can’t call her parents after a bad party or when she needs to company after one drama or another. As she grows up and moves to the city, has this boyfriend or that and so on, he’s still there, looking exactly the same and performing his duties to perfection.
This impossible connection and friendship is the basis for a novel that gives us much to ponder on – whether this will be reality some day (every day seeming more possible thanks to Apple and society in general) and the fact it’s shapes from all sides of the story – showing the business world as well as religion – makes it only that much more believable.
The characters are what drives this story, whether it’s Cat struggling through life, her mad yet grounded and caring father, the friends and lovers Cat meets throughout her life, or Finn, the android who doesn’t want to be human yet seems like the most perfect creation.
‘The Mad Scientist’s Daughter’ follows Cat’s life from when she’s only a few years old until she’s well into her middle-years. It carefully shows what life would be like after a sheltered upbringing, showing Cat’s selfish moments whilst making the reader emphasise with her still despite this. The plot moves along steadily, never boring thanks to the delicate prose with the tension building throughout until the second half, where it then just runs home with a reassuring, realistic and ultimately satisfying end.
One thing that struck me with this novel is that there is no info-dumping despite the large amount of information you know of the world and how everything is in the future, thanks to how it’s slipped in throughout, very descriptive and easy to imagine as at times there are new words we don’t have just yet, and at other times simple still using ‘computers’ and ‘oven’, as of course, not everything would change.
Most important in this novel, even though it’s about Cat, is Finn. He seems so real by the end, and whether you think you would be for or against AIs having the same rights as humans, you can’t help but hope he succeeds in the end, and finds his place in the world. Just where that place is… I’ll simply insist that you read this book and find out – it’s easily one of my favourites for 2012.
Thank you Net Galley and Angry Robot for the advance.