“In Synthient Skin” by G.W. Darcie

First-person narrative is nothing new, but when the main character is an android, we get a different twist on the technique. It’s not an unusual choice for Science Fiction, but in this case, the situation has been handled with great skill.

A lot of the enjoyment of the read is because of interesting conflicts. The parallels between the robot’s stages of development and that of a human child are obvious and sometimes disquieting. For example, the android has absorbed the human ambivalence towards its kind. Thus, when it achieves self-awareness, it reacts with horror to discover that it is not human. And then we wonder; how many humans have a prejudice against their own self-image?

I was particularly impressed with the technique of having the scientists talk about the main character as if he wasn’t there. The tension between our sympathetic perception of him and their lack of consideration points out their inability to understand him or his problems.

(A small aside; the line, “If you get scared, tell me with words,” echoes a frequent admonition to autistic children. This author has done a lot of research and slides it effectively into the narrative.)

Likewise, the android’s childlike need for emotional contact with a family member highlights its similarity to humans. This heightens the suspense when we fear that the humans cannot or will not fulfill this need.

In a fascinating switch, the android analyzes humans to discover moral truths, rather than the other way around, which is what the author is doing in writing the book.

And all of this lies against background themes of democracy and government control over the population: we begin to wonder whether a takeover by artificial intelligence would be any worse than humans using the new technology to seize power for themselves.

This author manages to discuss his many ideas in small bits demonstrated by the actions and emotions of characters, so we never get swamped by philosophy. However, while there are a number of good action sequences where the android’s internal conflicts are mirrored in the outside battles, there is too much talking at times, which erodes the suspense.

In the later part of the book, when the android has more interaction with outside humans, the difficulty they have in dealing with his abilities mirrors the trouble he is having with the same task. In learning sympathy for the one who has done him harm, he shows the development of an adult mind.

The biggest lesson the main character learns is about freedom and choice, and I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what he learns. Humans have to do that for themselves.

A highly entertaining and fascinating study of the human condition, seen through the eyes of one of our creations.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.

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