Fiction Reviews

Emily Eternal

(2019) M. G. Wheaton, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, hrdbk, 294pp, ISBN 978-1-473-68195-8


It is the near future and there's bad news: the end of the world is barely a year away! Somehow, our sun which we thought to be in its mid-life as a main-sequence star is actually close to the beginning of its red giant phase. The bottom line is that all life on Earth is doomed.

However, it is the near future and while humanity seems to have settled for what Brian Aldiss would have called a 'cosy catastrophe', one university has developed an artificial intelligence called Emily.  Long story short, it seems that the US President has a plan to save the heritage of humanity but it will require Emily's help even though there are ethical questions.  This last aside, matters literally take an explosive turn when the university campus, and the building in which Emily's servers are housed, is attacked by an unknown military team. Part of the Emily AI manages to escape but it is clear that she is being pursued…

This is a romp of a science-fantasy thriller from the debut novelist M. G. Wheaton. Note, this is science-fantasy: it is fantasy wrapped up in a coating of science terminology; this is not a hard SF exploration of the AI trope but a sci-fi action adventure told with a certain bravado and brio. Just hang on and go for the ride.

The opening chapters are really scene setting with a certain world-building. We have to get to grips with the idea of an unavoidable sword of Damocles apocalypse hanging over everything and that most calmly accept this: what's the point of panicking; either shoot yourself or make the most of the time left. We also have to understand Emily and how she interacts with the world and, more importantly, people. This last is done through interface chips attached to the skin that effectively wi-fi connect Emily to people's nervous systems. When Emily is not interfacing with a human, she can 'imagine' herself anywhere she is monitoring via CCTV and communications devices though there is a few seconds time lag between this virtual-but-based-on-the-real-world perception and interfacing directly with a human. (There is a sort of logic here, trust me.)

Wheaton is strong on his action sequences and the book's mid-sections are particularly engaging.  Towards the book's end, Wheaton takes us through a number of other SF tropes that serve to propel the plot.  So if you can suspend disbelief above and beyond that required for harder SF, and if you enjoy high-octane SFnal thrillers that throws everything at the plot – up to and including the end of the world as you know it – then you may well find Emily Eternal one heck of a romp ride.

Jonathan Cowie

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