Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke was an excellent read. It was very different to the author's début novel, The Assassin's Curse (my review), which I also enjoyed and which caused me to expect more of an adventure novel, possibly with steampunk elements (apparently, steampunk is where mad scientists belong, these days). The Mad Scientist's Daughter is not an adventure novel. It's set in the near future and, as the cover proclaims, it is "A tale of Love, Loss and Robots".

Cat, the titular character, is the daughter of two cyberneticists. When she's quite young, her father acquires Finn, a sophisticated android designed to look and act human. When her parents decide to homeschool her until highschool, they make Finn her tutor. Growing up with a robot, Cat does not hold the same prejudices and fears some elements of society do and isolated in a small town until she goes to college, she does not encounter them very often until she leaves. The Mad Scientist's Daughter is the story of Cat's life from childhood until her late thirties (I think). It is the story of a girl who fell in love with a robot.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a beautiful read. It explores the nature of sentience and humanity. Cat's father always treated Finn with respect and more or less like a person even when the law didn't require him to. This is wonderfully contrasted by a boyfriend of Cat's whose life mission seems to be getting around sentience laws by building AIs that are just dumb enough to not be granted any rights.

It was a bit of a depressing read. The tone reminded me most of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (not just because of the title similarity) except where The Time Traveller's Wife made me angry with the extent to which the main character's entire life revolved around her husband, The Mad Scientist's Daughter did not. Cat's life is her own. It's not perfect, but it certainly doesn't completely revolve around Finn; Finn just happens to be the person she loves and is of course important to her. Also Finn is a proper science fictional robot, not just a literary construct to make Cat's life harder/more depressing as the pseudo-scientifically time-travelling husband in The Time Traveller's Wife was.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a literary novel. (Recall my definition of "literary" is a story with an internal journey rather than an external (going on an adventure) journey.) Despite that, it paints a bleak but not hopeless image of the future. Cat lives in a time after a series of climate disasters caused much destruction, but society has mostly recovered, even if the weather occasionally still does strange things. When I grow up, I want to write a book like this. This is the first book that has made me want to be able to write something literary.

I highly recommend The Mad Scientist's Daughter to fans of near future science fiction and/or robots. I think non-SF readers will also enjoy it as the science fictional elements are relatively minor (yes, despite the presence of the robot). It was an excellent read and I encourage everyone to give it a try (unless they can't cope with novels not filled with action and adventure).

5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2013, Angry Robot
Series: Nope.
Format read: eARC on iPad
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley

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