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Book description

Bill DeSmedt's first novel, the science-fiction thriller Singularity, came out as long ago as 2005, and must rank as one of the best debut SF novels of recent decades. I gave it a very favorable review for the webzine Infinity Plus, which review is also reproduced here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show.... In that novel, rookie covert agent Marianna Bonaventura and management consultant Jonathan Knox — the latter having uncanny pattern-recognition skills — together counter an evil plot that involves time travel and the mini black hole that supposedly entered the earth in 1907, its arrival being responsible for the Tunguska Event. Singularity was a great thriller with mindboggling hard-science ideas thrown around in exhilarating fashion. I was surprised when the novel didn't make it to the Hugos shortlist, although it did win a couple of smaller awards.

Dualism sees the return of Marianna and Jon, who're by now a more-or-less established item. The trigger of their new adventure is the kidnapping from the supposedly impregnable California estate belonging to an obscenely powerful technocrat, Dave Ansari, of Ansari's little daughter Fatimah. Inevitably, the daughter has an unusual medical condition that means her prompt recovery is doubly necessary, but for once this isn't an artifice tagged on for purposes of ratcheting up the tension: the illness and a proposed attempt to cure it lie at the heart of the plot.

Ansari's corporation has until recently been working for the US Government on an ambitious mind-melding project, a way of temporarily merging the consciousnesses of scores of human volunteers in order to process information more rapidly than could the most powerful computer; think of the potential benefits to, say, an agency like the NSA that gathers far more information than it can ever hope to analyze. What Ansari doesn't know is that his own security chief, Hamza Nassiri, has plans to hijack the project for purposes of, in effect, jihad.

Jon soon finds that the artificial intelligence (AI) associated with the project, Nietzsche, is a far more significant player in the rapidly escalating series of events than expected; more than that, Nietzsche has a considerably greater degree of free will than anyone had realized. Here we reach the point of the novel's title: the dualism between mind and body, consciousness and flesh. Although Jon's reluctant at first to concede it, Nietzsche is to all intents and purposes — save the physical — a person, albeit a person with some very special abilities. One of those abilities is to upload human consciousnesses into his own mental construct, a trick that in due course saves Jon's life . . .

Singularity could be taken as either a hard-SF novel or a technothriller; at the time I reviewed it I regarded it as primarily in the latter category, although I now tend to think of it more as a work of hard SF. Dualism, by contrast, seems to me more definitively a technothriller (and pretty damn' thrilling it is, sustaining a good level of tension over its considerable length). And yet the odd thing is that the scientific ideas here are, if anything, even more boggling than those in the earlier novel. As are the explorations of the ethics and implications of the mind-merging technology.

It's arguable that AI is the next big frontier, and that we should be sorting out our attitudes towards it now rather than later. DeSmedt has done us a service by investigating the major issues involved. Whether as an effective white-knuckle thriller, as a dazzling sense-of-wonder conjuration of outrageous (yet completely plausible) scientific ideas, or as an urgent philosophical inquiry, Dualism is not a novel that I think I'll forget in a hurry.

NOTE: The publisher, Per Aspera, sent me an ARC for review.

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Book info

PublisherPer Aspera Press
GanreScience Fiction
Release date 01.05.2014
Pages count456
File size6.9 Mb
eBook formatHardcover, (torrent)En
Book rating4.23 (13 votes)
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