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Book Review: Sunrise Alley - Phil's Rambling Rants
June 5th, 2005
06:26 am

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Book Review: Sunrise Alley
Today's book review is Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro.

This book is not part of Asaro's Skolian Empire series.  It takes place in that trickiest of time periods, 30 years in the future.  It's jam-packed with fast and furious action with a plot that stretches the sense of disbelief but doesn't descend to the totally absurd.  It would make a great Hollywood action picture; there aren't very many explosions in the book, but lots more could easily be added.  And the story centers on an area which bodes to be an ethical minefield in the next few decades, raising consciousness about some issues of our advancing technology without a Michael Crichton-esque "science is going to kill us all" message: machine intelligence and the question of what is human.

The big problem I have with the story is that it assumes that it is possible for a machine to become a fully-conscious independently willed being.  If one accepts the notion that human consciousness takes place entirely in the electrochemical processes we're starting to understand in the brain, then the underlying developmnets of this book are very reasonable, even down to the possibility that technology could get this far in 30 years.  Unfortunately for my appreciation, I find the proposition that the subjective experience of consciousness, the phenomena that make me me, are completely explainable in terms of the electrochemical interactions of neurons, philosophically untenable, so I have to view this book as a techno-fantasy and not as hard SF.  (I might go into why in another post at some point.)  Fortunately, however, I am willing to entertain the concept in the context ofa techno-fantasy; unlike time travel, it's not a throw-the-book-across-the-room thing for me; it's more a "that's a neat idea, too bad it's not possible" thing -- like faster than light travel for people who are sure that Einstein knew it all.

This book seems a little rougher than Asaro's Skolian Empire books, which do have some serious action, but have some more beautiful stuff as well.  The actual plot only works if you just run through it at the speed of a Hollywood action flick, which creates some dissonance with the deeper issues woven into it which deserve some contemplation.  Not a complete success, but certainly not a complete failure; worth the short time it takes to read.  7 out of 10.

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