If there are two preoccupations in current SFF, they are probably climate change and artificial intelligence stories exploring the nature of what it means to be human. Emily Eternal by M G Wheaton (review copy from Hodderscape) attempts to fuse the two. But I’m not sure it succeeds.
Emily is an artificial consciousness created as a therapist by a New England university to help people overcome trauma. And there is a lot of trauma in the world of the novel – the Sun is dying and that means the Earth will too. Between the loss of solar energy and electromagnetic discharges destroying most of the planet’s technical infrastructure, the world is doomed. Wars, scarcity and suicide feature in the slow decline and fading away of society. It’s a very depressing scenario.
Within this last fading of human civilisation, Emily is growing and learning as a person, and helping others, living in a near live-time virtual copy of the university campus and able to interact with some of her developer team through specialist implants. Despite her impressive abilities, Emily is scrupulous about trying to replicate as far as possible what it is like to live as a human. Her life is a sophisticated version of The Sims, in effect.
But this story of human identity and what-it-means-to-be-human when living with the expected imminent collapse of civilisation takes a massive jink to the left when Emily’s technology is seen as one possible route for preserving humanity. What results is a bit of a hot mess of a thriller, with lots of mercenaries, chase sequences and evil Government conspiracies. The ending, in particular, felt rushed and incredibly implausible.
Goodreads rating: 2*