Friday, 25 April 2014

A Calculated Life: Female Cyborgs and the Men Who Love Them

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(ARC given by NetGalley)

Author: Anne Charnock
Publishing House: 47North
194 pages
Publication:  24th September  2013
Review written by Lady Entropy

Big business and state institutions are thriving late in the 21st century thanks to a compliant, stratified and segregated workforce. Hyper-intelligent professionals live in affluence within the metropolis while menials live out in the subsidized, but spartan, enclaves. There are upsides for everyone. Advances in genetic engineering have freed the population from addictive tendencies. Violent crime is a rarity. Mayhew McCline, a corporation that detects global trends, recruits a young woman, Jayna, who instantly becomes the firm's star performer. No one seems to be jealous. After all, she guarantees they all make their bonuses. Despite her flawless track record, Jayna is feeling twitchy. She knows she's making stupid mistakes. But no one has noticed, yet. Working on a hunch that she's too sheltered from real-world unpredictability, she embarks on an experiment to disrupt her proscribed daily routine. Unwittingly, she sets a path that leads to clandestine forays beyond the metropolis, corporate disloyalty and forbidden relationships.


A Calculated Life is 1984 -- with AIs\Cyborgs instead of people. It give us a slightly cyberpunkish future, where most human beings are "augmented" with implants, those who aren't are seen as lesser, and the coexist with artificial beings (who receive a lot less money, work a whole lot more, and live in buildings isolated from the rest of the population).

The concept is strong, the main character is compelling and sympathetic, and the final did surprise me. To a point. It just happened what I predicted (if you read or know of 1984 you can guess easily), but now how it happened.

I confess that I was already rolling my eyes in anticipation "Oh, come on, it's so obvious what's going to happen!" that I was sincerely surprised that she didn't get betrayed by the person I thought she'd be. Unfortunately, that's the weakest bit of the book. While the rest of the book is commendable, and very engaging, the end of the third act is too abrupt. Things go south without really a reason, it feels as if they happen because they're "supposed to happen since this is the end of the book" and not, rather, because it's a consequence of the story. The final conflict is really underwhelming, and the end is hardly satisfying, even if it's clear the author was aiming for tragic and bittersweet. Then there is loose ends that were never tied (namely who were the graffiti vandals and why), so all in all, it feels either the ending was rushed out or changed at the last moment, because it's rather disjointed in comparison with the slow, thoughtful pace of the rest of the book.

The book is well-written, so much that I nearly forgave it the lack of conflict, and how it's centred mostly around Jayna's "I want to be human" thing -- the other interesting conflicts we're promised in the synopses are glanced over at best. But I was still wondering how did the protagonist manage to have sex -- previously, it puzzled a lot of people how a human\cyborg couple managed to engage in coitus, since the artificial humans are obviously NOT equipped for it. But the protagonist does, soooo unless strap-ons are involved, I'm really not seeing it happening really. Unless the justification was somewhere in the book and I missed it.

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