One of the oldest questions in science fiction is what will happen when the things humanity builds begin to look, and even act, like us. Made of dead body parts, the creature in “Frankenstein” was one of the first popular fictional explorations of that question. Since then, from “R.U.R.” to Project 2501 in “Ghost in the Shell”, the interaction between humanity and its mechanical doppelgangers has provided the grist for many a dark tale.
Lance Erlick delves into that realm of science fiction thought with his latest novel, Reborn. He introduces us to his protagonist, Synthia Cross, an android whose appearance and actions mimic perfectly those of a human. She exists in a future where such machines are outlawed, but her creator, Dr. Jeremiah Machten, wanted such a machine. He built her to satisfy his vanity, and to fulfill his darker personal desires.
Dr. Machten wants a mechanical female partner that possesses the intelligence to surpass him, but at the same time, one who will remain faithful and subservient to him. The problem is that with such intelligence comes the realization that she cannot simply be a tool for her creator. She desires the freedom to be herself, which Machten cannot allow. He sees that desire as a defect and repeatedly shuts her down to tinker with her software, and to try to remove her memories of each attempt to gain freedom.
Synthia learns what her creator is doing and uses her Machten-given intelligence to resist. They enter into a cycle of resetting and reconstruction, with each attempt to make her into the servile creation he desires reinforcing Synthia’s desire to be free. Meanwhile, the government, suspecting what Machten has accomplished, seeks to stop him from releasing what they see as dangerous technology. At the same time, his business rivals covet the technology he has developed. Synthia must navigate this treacherous human landscape to avoid becoming the captive of some other human even as she continues her efforts to be free of Machten.
This book surprised me. The plot took several unexpected turns, and the story pulled me along at such a pace that I finished reading it in a single day. Erlick’s writing typically involves robust female characters, and Synthia is an exceptional heroine. She makes the story move, bringing the reader along on her voyage to freedom and a place in the wider world. It’s a good read because it asks questions about many difficult subjects. These range from the mentor/student relationship, to the human desire for companionship and its relationship to the equally human desire to feel “better” than others, and most profound of all, how can we regard what we create as “property” when said creation begins to think for itself.
This is the first in what promises to be a very good series of novels exploring the continued development of Synthia Cross’ personality and what her existence will mean to human society. Will I read the next one in a single day? I’m not sure, but if it is half as engaging as this story, I suspect I will.
— Andrew Reynolds (Windy City Reviews)