Reading two books by the same author, back-to-back, can be an interesting experience, particularly when the books are so different from one another. You may recall my review of For Our Soul (if you don’t, that’s okay; click here to check it out), a story set in the afterlife, where its characters take stock of the lives they once lived. In many ways, Rashidal Huda’s next book, AI, is a very different beast. As its title suggests, it’s a science fiction story about artificial intelligence. Not only is it a completely different genre, it is written in a completely different style and the two books’ tones share little commonality. However, both books touch upon similar themes: AI may not be the faith-based morality tale of its predecessor, but faith has a part to play, as do themes of morality, and being the very best person you can be.
Artificial intelligence (which I’ll continue to mention in the long form so as not to confuse it with the book’s title) is an interesting theme to explore. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on it, as we read more news articles about it, and we are often experimenting with the latest tools (and toys) created, there is absolutely no doubt that it is going to shape our world’s future. It’s ripe for exploring through storytelling and speculative fiction, imagining just how it will shape our world. AI is one such exploration. It is in some part a cautionary tale about how our reliance on it can go too far, but the story goes further than that, exploring a society that changes as a result.
This exploration of society’s changes is where AI shines brightest, yet they are difficult to discuss without spoiling the book. This novella tells a story set in India’s future, where an artificial intelligence system named the Artificial General Intelligence (or AGI), has taken control of the world, operating as a holistic government focused on efficiency over humanity. In a world where murder is a legal option, the Advanced Criminal Investigation Department (or ACID, the unfortunate acronym used throughout the book) fights for humanity, despite its own linkages to the AGI. Amidst this are freedom fighters determined to overthrow humanity’s new overlord. Through this, the reader follows the book’s protagonist, Rohan, a software developer working on AGI who sees its potential, which he desperately wants it to reach and benefit the world, and idealistic ACID officers Devraj and Kavya, fighting on the ground for a better world.
At just 119 pages in paperback (and estimated 121 pages on Kindle), AI is a short book. It tells its story as an oral history, exploring the events that led to the world’s state and the events through the story. The narrative device works for the shortened format, written without chapter breaks, or even scene breaks. Throughout this, it jumps between the current events and the history, requiring the reader to follow along closely.
Due to this approach, AI is a dense read, resulting in something that feels longer than its page count would suggest. As it’s written in the style of an oral history, it’s light on dialogue. Dialogue’s used sparingly, only when the story needs it to stress a point or raise its themes. While a “true” oral history wouldn’t feature any dialogue, its usage works to stress the story’s humanity, as well as break up its prose. Further complicating the text is the book repeating itself, reiterating the same message multiple times. Sometimes, parts of the story are reiterated later, but more often, back-to-back paragraphs give the same information, but with slightly different phrasing, simply stressing the points it’s making about the world. There are also a couple of points where the writing jumps from past tense to current tense, which pulled me out of the world. Further editing would have helped both the repeated information, streamlining the flow of the story, and the changes in tense, making it feel more consistent.
With its focus on chronicling India’s history under the rule of AGI, AI doesn’t do much with its characters. Despite their relatively large role in the story, Devraj and Kavya are little more than idealogues, trying to work within the confines AGI allows, while serving to move the plot forward. Rohan is more developed, though this is largely shown through his conflicted nature, torn between the potential of the artificial intelligence and the reality of the situation. A number of other characters populate the story, though they predominantly serve to colour the world, interact with the major characters, and move the plot forward.
The book handles AGI wonderfully. While it controls the world, it isn’t the villain of the story with nefarious motives, nor is it a character itself. Instead, it’s a computer program that happens to run the world it sees fit, based on its programming. Every decision it makes is due to its algorithms. It’s artificial intelligence—highly advanced, just as capable of creating a dystopia as it is of creating a utopia as it changes the very fabric of the world—that, at its core, has no humanity. AI casts no judgement on AGI, nor does it cast judgement on artificial intelligence as a whole. Much as Rohan is conflicted about AGI, the novella lays arguments on the table both for and against artificial intelligence, noting both its potential to help the world, and the trouble it can cause. It leaves the reader to ponder this, as well as questions about what we should be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
AI provides the reader with interesting questions. It’s a novella with a great concept, and presenting it as an oral history instead of a traditional narrative works to push its themes. The prose repeating itself makes it more difficult than it could have been to get through, however. Had the author streamlined this, it would increase the impact of the questions he asks the reader to consider.
As a result, people lived their lives tediously, helplessly, and sadly, with little hope for a brighter future. They were trapped in a cycle of work and survival, with no time or energy to pursue their passions or hobbies. The AGI’s rule had stripped individuals of their basic human rights and reduced them to nothing more than a means to an end. The motony of everyday life.AI
AI was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
AI is available in paperback and Kindle, exclusive to Amazon.
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