Sometimes when a book comes out, I’ll take a peek at the cover and synopsis and be really into it. I’ll put it on my ‘to read’ list on Goodreads and tell myself that I’ll borrow it from the library when it makes it there.
And then I’ll forget about it completely.
That is exactly what happened with the book. It was published in 2013 and I wanted to read it so badly – but didn’t remember until a co-worker picked it up at work last week.
It took me three years to getting around to it, and I wish I had read it sooner!
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter didn’t fit in with my spooky October reads, but I decided to go for it anyway.
This book tore out my heart, ripped it into a billion pieces, mashed it back together and stuck it right back into the gaping hole in my chest.
In short, it was fantastic.
I always forget how much I enjoy reading about robots and the questions of sentience and rights that their presence often prompts.
The main character is Cat, who the reader sees grow from a small child to a woman over the course of the book. When we first meet her, she’s basically been allowed to run wild and discover life on her own in the gardens and woods behind her home. Both of her parents are scientists, her mother having given up her career to be a housewife, and her father tinkering away on projects in their basement.
One day, her father comes home with a strange man that she believes to be a ghost. Years later, she learns that he is in fact a robot. He becomes her tutor, her constant companion, and her friend.
Cat is not a perfect person. She has a boatload of issues and she’s honestly a complete jerk sometimes. But as I watched her grow up I understood the circumstances that led her to make various (arguably terrible) decisions.
Finn, the robot, is also an interesting character. Though he is a machine, Cat’s father treats him as a person – part of the reason he’s earned the moniker ‘mad scientist’ among the general population. Cat’s mother is always either vaguely disapproving of him or outright upset about him.
As the book progresses, Cat learns about Finn little by little. It changes her opinion of him, and it changed mine too, but in different ways throughout the book. Cat is an interesting character, but because she is a flawed character, her narration is narrow in that we only see what she sees. This is especially the case with every type of relationship she has in the course of her life.
I felt so many things reading this book. Anger, hopelessness – and for the better part of it, immense sadness that built a painful lump in my throat that just wouldn’t leave.
Robots are a fact of life in the setting – machines made to work, originally prompted by an unnamed Disaster that wiped out a great deal of the population. Sometimes referred to as ‘automata’, they cannot feel or form attachments, and are a basic facsimile of humans. Sometimes they’re faceless, or there are lights in their facial features. Many humans (those deeply religious) believe them to be abominations and run the gamut from lobbying against them legally to viciously tearing them apart in the streets.
Despite the fact that robots are pervasive, this is a story about being human. It’s a tale of messy emotions, of making friends, of working with your hands, of being normal and defying norms, and of love.
What does it mean to be human? This book is a journey that basically explores that question.
I wouldn’t class this as straight up science fiction as I usually think of it. More a ‘soft sci-fi’ character study.
But no matter your genre preferences, if you’re looking for a beautifully written story this is the book for you.
Just read it. Just do it.
Do you have any similar recommendations for me? Beautiful books that stayed with you long after reading them? Tales of robot or AI sentience?
Recommend them to me in the comments below!