"Infinity Born" by Douglas E. Richards
I didn’t like this book. It has some interesting and promising ideas, but none of them are well-executed. Ultimately it’s a book with boring characters about computer science and espionage that seems to be written by someone with little understanding of either computer science or espionage.
Infinity Born is a near-future thriller about artificial intelligence. The concepts involved are fascinating. Unfortunately, it’s just not very realistic. The author has a master’s degree in genetic engineering, so I have no doubt he’s capable of understanding the computer science involved, but for some reason it just doesn’t come off that way. Maybe he dumbed things down for a lay audience or to avoid even longer explanations than the novel already suffers from. Regardless of the cause, the result is that the way the characters interact with technology, the way technology works, and the way government and espionage are portrayed all seem laughably contrived.
That’s not necessarily a problem for science fiction, but I think there’s a sort of uncanny valley to science fiction itself. Sci-Fi set in the far future or in totally unfamiliar places doesn’t need to feel similar to real life because we don’t expect it to be (think Foundation, Star Trek, or The Expanse). Other novels use the science fiction as a catalyst for something else (think Hitchhiker’s Guide, which uses the science fiction as a vessel for satire). But the sort of near-future science fiction in Infinity Born is supposed to be something we can imagine happening in our lifetimes. The characters wrestle with issues we might face relatively soon. That needs to happen in a world recognizably similar to our own, and the world of Inifinity Born feels like a caricature.
Another major problem with this book is that virtually all of the characters are really, really smart. And yet they frequently overlook painfully obvious things that no reasonably intelligent person would miss. As a result, much of the book is utterly predictable. I’m not usually good at reading plot twists. I guess I’m naive and gullible; I’m easily drawn into the worlds authors create, willing to overlook their flaws, and I accept what characters say and do at face value. So I’m often surprised by twists and turns others anticpate. Not so with Infinity Born. Because all the characters are so brilliant, whenever someone does something incredibly dumb, it’s obvious where that oversight or mistake is leading us.
And the writing is bad, too. We learn what characters are thinking or feeling by the third-person omniscient narrator telling us. There’s way too much exposition. I lost count of the number of times a character said something “wryly” or “with a smile.” The characterization isn’t great, either. It feels as though the characters were created at the beginning of a video game: they have different appearances and “specs” (Cameron Carr is good at fighting and tactics but less good at the computer science stuff, Riley has some fighting ability and is really good at the computer science stuff, etc.), but underneath they’re all the same. For people who are struggling with major ethical and moral problems and who literally hold the fate of humanity in their hands, it says something that their struggles with these issues reveal almost nothing about what makes them tick.
Finally, the treatment of the big issues the book takes on is superficial and brusque. Those fascinating concepts that are raised at the beginning of the book are mostly glossed over throughout, and the resolution is unsatisfying.