When I pick up a book from Angry Robot Books, publisher of such titles as vN and Blackbirds, I expect action. I expect suspense. I expect monsters and magic and to be scared out of my wits.
Which is why The Mad Scientist's Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke, was such a surprise to me.
And a super-pleasant one at that.
|The Madd Scientist's Daughter|
By Cassandra Rose Clarke
Angry Robot Books
Release date: January 29, 2013
Seriously...the robot's stellar.
So. The Mad Scientist's Daughter is the story of a girl, Caterina (Cat) Novak, who lives in a non-specified future time, after non-specified disasters have rocked the Earth. Robots are prevalent, in the service industry mostly, but elsewhere as well. Artificial intelligence and sentience are explored by some of the best brains in the nation, including Cat's father.
When we first meet Cat, she's just a little girl, living with her parents, both scientists, deep in the country. When she first meets Finn, who looks like a man but is obviously something different, she thinks he's a ghost. The writing on those first pages is as magical and beautiful as childhood itself. It's full of wonder and curiosity, two of my favorite things.
Later Cat learns Finn is a robot, not a ghost...but it takes her the whole book to learn he's also something more.
Finn becomes Cat's tutor, her friend. And then, much later, her lover, too.
The ethical and moral questions here are endless...humans using machines, humans using other humans, the rights of those sentient robots who know enough to question their own servitude. They're all explored through Cat's eyes as she comes of age in the robot-world and embarks upon college, adult-life, an ultimately doomed marriage, and eventually motherhood.
Cat is flawed, deeply flawed. She uses Finn for sex, to make herself feel better, and ignores all signs that point to the fact that her actions have actually hurt him. Then she marries a man because he's rich, because he can provide the secure life to which she is accostomed.
Through Cat's eyes we also see a somewhat bleak vision of the future. Global warming (perhaps?) has raised temperatures to the point where the heat is as much a character as Cat and Finn. It's brutal, the heat. It colors everything, and it speaks volume that a lone cold snap brings about the biggest change in Cat's life.
I read this book with a constant sense of impending doom...I expected disaster and drama around ever corner. But this isn't one of those books. This book is more subtle, a much more realistic picture of an imagined world, and I loved it.
The scenes of Cat interacting with her husband, a workaholoic who wants nothing more than an obedient trophy-wife, made me uncomfortable. I couldn't read them at night, they were so full of tension. They kept me awake, worrying about Cat.
That's how real these characters felt.
And I love Finn. There's no way to not love Finn, the robot who is something more. Something beautiful and amazing, and I was sad when the story ended. I wanted to keep reading about him.
And isn't that the best thing you can say for a book? That when it ended, you wanted more?
Well, that's the truth for me about The Mad Scientist's Daughter. I wanted more, and I hope Clarke gives us more from this world soon.