Book Review: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

Machines Like Me
I hope you’ll like the personal touch and the fact that I’ve taken this picture for YOU

Oh dear. Wow. Okay. Ugh. Where do I even start? Oh wait, I know! This isn’t a good book. In fact, it’s a bad book. I’m sad because I’m a McEwan fan but this time I wished I had judged the book by its cover and skipped reading it. This is probably the most disappointing love story I’ve ever read.

In an alternative world, created who knows why for the purpose of this novel, England loses the Falklands War and Alan Turing manages to design many things related to artificial intelligence that we don’t even have today. These things include Adam. Adams and Eves (how creative!) are first human-like robots. They think, can rebel against actual humans, have feelings… and sex.
The particular Adam we meet is Charlie’s property. Charlie has inherited some money after his parents’ death so he doesn’t really need to work and has a lot of time to contemplate his relationship with Miranda. Miranda’s weird but seemingly in love with Charlie. The robot Adam, on the other hand, loves… You can find out by reading the novel or PMing me at zlotybaby_rinsebeforeuse on Instagram so that I can tell you.

Without further spoilers to the plot, I can tell you that this novel is bizarre and particularly weird for McEwan. I’ve always really appreciated the fact that his novels, novelas and short stories are very focused. In other words, he usually chooses a theme and explores it thoroughly. All that in beautiful English which has been giving me chills for years. Now, I’m not saying he’s a perfect writer but he’s a very good one.
It comes to my surprise, as you can imagine, that this book is just overblown rubbish. The plot is unnecessarily complicated and reminds me of South American soap operas. It includes only vaguely related elements that drive the novel in a weird direction and are overly dramatic. The events and the characters’ reactions to them make the human/robot trio barely psychologically credible (or relatable). The characters and the plot almost kill the book but I could even stomach that in exchange for some good sci-fi. Unfortunately, the genre doesn’t seem to fit McEwan.

I believe that this is the author’s first attempt at speculative fiction. It may be that he just doesn’t know how to write it. Still, the golden rules for writers is to write about what you know. If you haven’t read a lot of books in a genre you’re trying to write in, you’re just unlikely to succeed.
Yes, there are some vaguely interesting moral considerations in this book: Could a humanoid fall in love or have real feelings? Are humanoid’s feelings different to the ones we have as humans? Is the robot consciousness real? What makes consciousness real? What makes us human? and so on and so forth. However, Ian McEwan simply didn’t do his homework. Many of these topics have been explored in some brilliant pieces of science fiction writing and other types of art expression.
I can tell that the author has never heard of the Three Laws of Robotics or even bloody “Westworld”. It seems only natural to try to make sure that what we’re saying is somewhat innovative.
Or maybe not. Wait, I have a great book idea! I’ll write a novel about an 11-year-old orphaned boy with a scar on his forehead and magical skills who studies at a school of magic with his friends…

The world that McEwan created is just lazy. Offensively so! We learn some facts about the alternative history but only of Britain. Surely, some things went differently around the world too? Also, if that world was so technologically advanced to create humanoids in 1982, it’s logical to assume that other things would be different too. In vain you can look for super advanced cars, extra lethal guns, holograms or anything else technologically curious in this novel… McEwan didn’t even toy with the idea of creating a truly convincing alternative reality.
Someone could say that he’s not a sci-fi author but if the author’s ambition wasn’t to create a sci-fi novel then what point was there with coming up with an alternative reality? Surely, he could have told us exactly the same lame love story in reality closer to ours?

So yeah, sorry, Dear Rinsers but this book is sh*t. Here are some recommendations of what to do instead of reading it:
– If you’re looking for some food for thought about artificial intelligence and love/sex between humans and robots, watch Westworld and/or the “Striking Vipers” episode of the new season of “Black Mirror”
– If you’re looking for a good Ian McEwan novel read “The Atonement”, “Enduring Love”, “The Cement Garden” or from his newer works, “The Children Act”
– If you’re looking for something to do, check out our numerous reviews of things actually worth your time
– Last but not least, if you’re keen on more of my reviews of Ian McEwan related art you can read the review of his novel “Sweet Tooth” or the film adaptation of his novella “On Chesil Beach

Have you read anything by Ian McEwan? Who’s your favourite author? Do you like sci-fi and/or fantasy? Let’s chat!

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4 comments

  1. Sounds like a somewhat interesting concept. I think I did watch that episode of Black Mirror – is it the one where the boyfriend dies and she gets a digital version of him and the more the robot learns about the person the more he becomes like the guy? Or maybe that was another episode?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, the one you’re mentioning is good too but the one I’m referring to is in the newest season and it explores specifically sex, faithfulness and virtual reality.

      Like

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