Klara and the Sun – Full Thoughts

NOTE: This review contains spoilers below the synopsis. For my spoiler-free review, please see my YouTube video.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel takes us to a world of the not-so-distant future, where AI and humans live side-by-side…literally. Klara, an artificial friend (“AF”), relates to us her journey of leaving a shop window for a home with Josie, her teenage adoptive human. Josie suffers from a mysterious illness, which frustrates her mother and leaves her with few close human friends, apart from her boyfriend Rick. As Klara acclimates to life with her new family, she peels back their history and secrets to discover the real reason for her presence in their lives.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

I SAID MAJOR. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED….

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Why Do We Love Robots? – Thoughts While Reading Klara and the Sun

I am currently 60% through Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun. In recent years, the British writer has pivoted away from psychological family dramas towards science fiction and fantasy. Klara and the Sun, in fact, is narrated by an artificial friend (or “AF”) called Klara, who relates her experiences starting as a robot in a store window and subsequent adoption by Josie, a lonely teenage girl.

I don’t know where this book is going, but I can say already I’m quite attached to Klara, even though I know she is only a highly advanced computer with a human-like body. This is not the first time a fictional computer has won my heart.

There’s a reason Data is one of fans’ favorite Star Trek characters. It’s the same reason Ishiguro was able to write a novel from an android’s perspective.

We all would love to have a friend who accepts and supports us unconditionally. Somebody who is always dependable and has few other motives in life than to be there for us. Someone who doesn’t criticize us, tease us, use us, or abandon us. Total commitment, in our noncommittal world, but not in a clingy way—we want to be able to walk away, too.

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The Time Machine: Then and Now

It’s been about fifteen years since I first read The Time Machine.  It was so unlike anything I’d read before.  Afterwards, I even wrote my own time-travelling story, which was more like fan-fiction than anything else.

I don’t often reread books, but as I build my H. G. Wells collection, I figured I’d reread each book and see how it held up over time.  (No pun intended!)  The Time Machine was the first book by Wells I’d read and seemed like a natural starting point.

The story begins in Victorian England.  A group of friends – a doctor, a journalist, a psychologist, and others – gather at the Time Traveller’s house for their customary meal and conversation.  The Time Traveller at this stage has just created a model of his machine which he says he can build at full-scale and use to travel through time.  The demonstration leaves his guests skeptical, but not long after that, the Time Traveller shows up to one of his own dinners, bedraggled and telling a wild story of adventure and romance.  The rest of the book is a flashback (or is it a flashforward?) which follows his exploits into the future, where the human race has become split into binary factions, the childlike, helpless Elois and the industrious, sinister Morlocks.

I’d like to think I was an astute child, but the sheer selfishness and stupidity of the Time Traveller was apparently lost on me.  For the most important trip of his life, he leaves very unprepared, which comes back to bite him later.  More disturbing is his romance with the woman-child named Weena.  The age difference is ambiguous, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he seems more interested in his own well-being than hers.  Overall he’s a terribly unlikable narrator, and the worst of it is, Wells doesn’t seem to realize that.

The story itself is still exciting, even this many years later.  Unlike the recent adaptations of Doctor Who, which follow a breathless plotline, Wells makes use of “negative space,” if you will, to highlight the more perilous moments.  There’s almost a pastoral bent to his descriptions of the futuristic countryside, forests, and rivers.  It makes for a poignant contrast between the appearances of peace and the realities of warfare (or rather, terrorism), which the Morlocks inflict on the peace-loving Elois.

Is the plot realistic or plausible?  Not really – but I’m not sure it was intended to be. It does, however, give you an insight on the late Victorian psyche, at least from Wells’s perspective.

If you like classic steampunk, then you have to read The Time Machine.  If you can rewind to childhood and read it then, all the better.

Two Views of the Twentieth Century – Episode 31

We kick off Season 3 with two giants of 19th-century science fiction: Jules Verne and Albert Robida.  Both French authors, Verne and Robida crafted futuristic novels set in the 20th century, predicting changes in technology and society.  Join me in this trip to the past, which at times feels amazingly reminiscent of the digital world we live in today.

Links / Further reading:
Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne
The Twentieth Century by Albert Robida

“Humanzees” and The Island of Doctor Moreau – Episode 21

A magazine article provoked me to re-read H. G. Well’s sci-fi horror classic, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Join my trip back in time as I talk about a Soviet scientist, a British author, and human-chimpanzee people.

Sources / Further Reading:
“It’s Time to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids” by David Barash
Articles referencing Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov:

H. G. Wells’s The New World Order
H. G. Wells vs. George Orwell (The Conversation)
“The Comprachicos” by John Kaiser (JSTOR)
“Wanting Babies Like Themselves, Some Parents Choose Genetic Defects” (New York Times)