“Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan

MachinesGenre:          Literary Science Fiction
Publisher:    Doubleday Books
Pub. Date:   April 23, 2019

This is Ian McEwan at his storytelling best.  At first, you may think you are reading a futuristic novel.  You are not.  You are in 1982 London.  But, this is an alternative 1982, which has futuristic technology.   Got it?  Once you wrap your head around that, be prepared to be entertained as well as educated on the legendary British mathematician and father of computer science, Alan Turing.  Still, much in this timeline diverges from ours, so you may find yourself googling when unsure what’s real and what’s McEwan.   You will read made-up battles regarding The Falkland war, which are written amazingly believable.  In this narrative, Margaret Thatcher didn’t win back the islands.  Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Regan.  And, my personal favorite, the Beatles got back together.  Best of all, no one killed John Lennon—Sweet.

The premise of the book is a what-if scenario regarding artificial intelligence.  This brings us to Alan Turing.  In real life, Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts.  He chose chemical castration over imprisonment.   He died in his early forties.  McEwan asks the reader what if he chose imprisonment instead and is still alive.   Turing’s fictionalized imprisonment gives him more time to create.  In prison, he takes artificial intelligence to a whole new level.  The year 1982 reads more like, maybe, 2082.   Robots have just been designed as fully convincible as human beings.  So far there are 25 of these human/machines on the market:  12 “Adams” and 13 “Eves.”   Got to love those names.  For a large sum of money, anyone can buy an Adam or an Eve.

There are three protagonists in this novel, two male and one female.  One is an Adam.   The other is a 32-year old screw-up of a guy named Charlie.  He blows his inheritance to buy the artificial man.   We also meet Charlie’s 22-year-old, sort of, girlfriend, Miranda.    Together Miranda and Charlie program Adam to have the personality qualities that they desire in a friend.  They consider Adam to be their baby.  But, they don’t share with each other what traits they programmed into their new friend.  By the way, Adam is cable of having sex.  Now, what could possibly go wrong?  Think Frankenstein meets the computer Hal from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” then throw in some kinkiness.

Yes, if you read this book you are going to go on an acid trip.  Though, it is really not as convoluted as it sounds.  Unlike pulp sci-fi novels, “Machines” is written plausibly in all dimensions, reminiscent of the movie “Bladerunner.”  McEwan certainly gives the reader plenty to think about in his what-if alternative world.  I’m sure he meant there to be a moral in his tale.  And there is.  Just what makes us human?  What makes us addicted to artificial intelligence?   Will we ever end up being controlled by machines?   However, this reviewer so enjoyed the trippiness of the plot that I didn’t pay too much attention to the author’s message.   Possibly, that is what McEwan wants.  Or, possibly, I need to reread the book.  I am sure I will anyway.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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6 thoughts on ““Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan

  1. I’ve always been on the fence regarding McEwan’s books. I want to like them, but they usually end up in my ‘did not finish’ pile. That being said- this one really grabs my attention. Nice review.

    Liked by 2 people

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