Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

     The brilliant programmer Melissa Shepherd has invented an autonomous AI to pilot an exploration raft on Kraken, the moon Titan’s largest and most dangerous sea. The AI has been designed to be self-sufficient, thinking intuitively like a human being and finding ways to avoid danger. The AI can even recognize faces, and strangely enough, has a sense of humor, though Melissa didn’t put that in the design…

     During a routine test, Dorothy’s programming overrides Melissa’s command, and the AI escapes into the Internet after causing the destruction of the testing lab. Overwhelmed by the chaos and horror she finds there, she begins to hunt Melissa, who in turn flees to the mountains, away from all technology. The government calls upon former CIA agent Wyman Ford to find both Melissa and Dorothy; but meanwhile, some ruthless algo traders from Wall Street are hunting for Dorothy for their own purposes. It becomes a race against time as Wyman must convince Dorothy of his good intentions before she is found by the traders, and before she decides whether or not humanity is fit to live…

     The premise is absolutely insane, but Preston, as usual, manages to weave the story in such a way that it seems absolutely believable. He hits voice so well that even Dorothy has her own unique narration. That was one of the most interesting parts-Preston was able to write Dorothy’s viewpoint in eerie detail. Melissa insisting that she is just “programmed” to think like a human being casts doubt upon Dorothy’s narration, yet the effect is so realistic that the reader is constantly left wondering if Melissa really knows her creation that well.

     It’s always nice to see Wyman Ford back. I first met him when I read Tyrannosaur Canyon, when he was living as a monk. Seeing him overcome the issues that led him to that choice and back in civilization where he packs candy bars and store-bought beef jerky for a difficult hike into the mountains is quite funny. While I question the supposed chemistry between him and Melissa, there’s no doubt they at least make a great team. The character development of all characters is drawn well, including a bizarre version of a “Come to Jesus” moment that somehow is done better than a lot of Christian fiction, despite the fact that Preston is not a Christian, and that it involves AI.

     This is yet another great yarn from Douglas Preston, and naturally on my “highly recommended” list.

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