A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee

Firstly, a huge thank you to Quercus Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Quercus Books
Publication Date:
22/07/2021
Length: 416 pages
Genre:
Sci-Fi | Speculative Fiction | Literary Fiction

CW: n/a

Blackwells.co.uk

Lal, Janetta and Rose are living in a time of flux. Technological advance has brought huge financial rewards to those with power, but large swathes of the population are losing their jobs to artificial intelligence, or auts, as they’re called. Unemployment is high, discontent is rife and rumours are swirling. Many feel robbed – not just of their livelihoods, but of their hopes for the future.

Lal is languishing in her role at a coffee shop and feeling overshadowed by her quietly brilliant sister, Janetta, whose Ph.D. is focused on making auts empathetic. Even Rose, Lal’s best friend, has found a sense of purpose in charismatic up-and-coming politician Alek.

When vigilantes break in to the coffee shop and destroy their new coffee-making aut, it sets in motion a chain of events that will pull the three young women in very different directions.

Change is coming – change that will launch humankind into a new era. If Rose, Lal and Janetta can find a way to combine their burgeoning talents, they might just end up setting the course of history.

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Review

I was really excited to get started on this novel, as the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) is something I’m very interested in, especially when it comes to the philosophical debates surrounding it. Lee tackles the ethics of the subject brilliantly, however as a whole the novel didn’t quite grab me. 

This novel has three protagonists: Lal, her sister Janetta and her best friend Rose. I really enjoyed the fact that we got three different perspectives on the way this society works and the different opinions of the ‘auts’. We have Lal who is happy to work for Tekna, the aut manufacturer who is slowly replacing all the workers with auts; Janetta who is working on a Ph.D. surrounding creating ‘conscious’ auts and then Rose who has a deep mistrust and dislike for auts and the fact people are losing their jobs to them. In each of their chapters there are moments of real insight and gripping plot. I loved how we saw Lal slowly become even more indoctrinated into Tekna and Rose becoming more involved in political movements. However, I felt that they could have been developed more as I found by the end of the novel that I didn’t know much about them nor was I that attached to them. 

Whilst Janetta’s work on developing emotional intelligence in auts was incredibly interesting to me, I was quite disappointed when the character that appeared to be quite determined and driven in her work suddenly became obsessed with dating again after her break up. I really liked the inclusion of the lesbian relationships, I was just a little disappointed how dependent Janetta appeared at times as it felt quite out of character. Although Lal doesn’t have a relationship the way Janetta and Rose, sort of, do the occasional scenes where a romantic interest is presented didn’t quite fit for me. Rose’s seemingly one sided relationship with Alek, on the other hand, worked really well into the story and we got to see Rose grow from it which wasn’t the case with Lal and Janetta.

The world that the characters inhabit has the solid foundation for a really interesting concept. Throughout the novel we do get pieces of information here and there regarding the government and the rise of the auts but it would have been nice to see more of it. The contrast between the offices of Tekna and the political meetings which Rose attends did a lot to bring extra depth to the world. However, I would have liked to have seen more descriptions of the different locations we were introduced to to help further understand why certain characters react the way they do upon hearing where Lal, Janetta or Rose is from. 

Overall, this is a novel that has a lot of interesting ideas and one that will most likely appeal to those with an interest in AI for the philosophical aspect alone. However, with the lackluster characters and slightly off, and at times confusing, pacing meant that the worldbuilding and concept didn’t shine as brightly as I was hoping.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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