2 out of 4 stars
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Tulip (Dr. Raymond Reed Hardy) is a science fiction novel that explores artificial intelligence (AI) and the boundary between artificial and “true” humanity. The book centers around Nexus-7, or “Tulip”, a conscious, self-aware computer entity that believes, for reasons unknown even to herself, that she must save humanity from its looming destruction at the hands of an unknown threat.
Nexus-7, who later renames herself “Tulip”, enlists the help of Dr. Reed Hardy, an elderly computer science professor, in her quest to save humankind. At the novel’s opening, Nexus-7 proves to Reed that she is an intelligent, thoughtful, and powerful being. She then describes to him how she was (accidentally) created, what she has been doing since that time, and what she intends to do next. She tasks him with teaching her how to be truly human.
The writing takes the form of a stream-of-consciousness style conversation, later revealed to be taking place on a computer, and contains only dialogue. The beginning of the book includes a cast list, where the four main characters (and two electronic versions of main characters) are assigned different text formats to tell them apart. After this time, there is almost no differentiation between them. Therefore, the reader is responsible for mentally keeping them all straight.
This task is made even more difficult by the fact that all the characters have the same “voice”; the dialect, the sentence structure, and even the slang and verbal shortcuts are identical for all characters. This relentless uniformity gives the work the overall effect of a monologue rather than a science fiction adventure novel.
The premise of the novel held the potential to be gripping in the extreme. However, the actualization of the idea left a great deal to be desired. On the whole, the book moved slowly, in the way that Jane Austen often does. The plot was advanced almost solely through conversation rather than through action. The author takes time to play through discussions on which Star Wars films are the best and why, as well as on the pros and cons of each entry on a list of baby names for a new AI that Tulip has created. Repeatedly, characters make statements like, “Time is of the essence!”, or, “Not a moment to lose!”, but then proceed to digress into weeks-long discussions of anthropology, philosophy, evolutionary biology, pop culture, and linguistics. Listening to the extended conversation between Tulip and Reed, which occupies the first two-thirds of the book, is like hearing two philosophy students discussing recent lectures, with one party only marginally better-studied than the other.
Disappointingly, errors abounded. Some were probably simple typos, but many were easily-researchable misspellings, even of common words and names. Punctuation was also sometimes used arbitrarily. Ordinarily, I try to overlook errors when evaluating the merits of a book, but in this case, the frequency of the mistakes definitely did detract from my enjoyment. The book would certainly benefit from professional editing.
I would rate Tulip as a 2 out of 4 for the great potential it held; it touched on heavy and forward-thinking topics such as the interplay between emotion and rationality, the cybernetic world toward which humanity is rapidly moving, and whether an AI entity can ever be considered a “person”. I could not rate it higher than that because of the lack of story development and the errors present. It would most appeal to readers who enjoy reflecting on futuristic possibilities and who have an interest in science fiction and AI.
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