Whilst certainly imaginative and speculative, A Strange and Brilliant Light never quite managed to wholly grab my attention, although I still enjoyed the context and the interlaced characters.
Title: A Strange and Brilliant Light
Author: Eli Lee
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication Date: 22nd July 2021
Ownership: ARC provided by the publisher
Rating: 3.5 stars
The story follows three distinct opinions and experiences relating to artificial intelligence (or ‘auts’ as they’re known in this book).
Lal is an ardent, focused admirer of the Tekna corporation and is desperate to pursue a career in ‘business’. Janetta is her older sister – a dreamer in a different, apparently solely focused on her research and PhD studies in emotional intelligence in auts, but desperate for the romantic love that she has finally been able to explore. Rose, Lal’s best friend, worshipped her trade union leader father before his unexpected death, and is now beginning to explore her own fears around the auts replacing the ‘expendable’ workforce and what their rollout will mean for her own family.
The focus in this book is around AI – the admiration that Lal has for Tekna, only to find more of the truth about how they are rolling out auts across their organisation. But her sister, with whom she can’t identify, despite their similarities, admires the auts academically. She believes that one day there will be an AI majority but, in order to protect humanity from their inevitable revolt and uprising, she needs to be able to understand human emotion and to programme then to adapt emotionally and to relate to humanity, in order to protect them.
Rose is probably the most fleshed-out and relatable character. She has her own strong, informed opinions, but founds herself swept up and caught up in the opinions of the vocal men around her – first her father, then her older brother, and then her new boyfriend and meeting group leader Alek. Her anger and frustration at being unheard is clear, even if she doesn’t quite realise it herself.
What’s clear throughout, however, is that in a world where there is still very much a ‘working class’, it is this group of people who will lose their jobs and their livelihoods with the introduction of a well-programmed, willing artificial intelligence. It is this group of people who have the most to lose. And, despite Lal, Janetta and Rose’s differing opinions, this is one background that they all share.
However, this is not necessarily a tale of thrilling corporate espionage or working class activism. It’s very realist in some ways, as it’s as though AI has come to our own world. But if you’re expecting a fast-paced, story, this probably isn’t the one for you. Janetta experiences perhaps the greatest development as a character, as she begins to realise her own interests, but I wouldn’t describe this as a necessarily character-driven novel either. In some ways, with a reduction in the amount of backstory or number of characters, this would make a great spec fic novella, but as a full-length novel I personally found it dragging at times and, by the halfway point, still being unclear where it was heading.
That being said, it presents issues of political, social and moral philosophy in an interesting and engaging way and – if that is what you are looking for – the you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve given this an average rating of 3.5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from Jo Fletcher Books in exchange for an honest review.