US Review of Books

Future Prometheus: Emergence & Evolution

"Even in the low light, it was clear to Melendez that, while designed to appear as a woman, this person was in fact some kind of artificial life form. He felt his heart race and his breath become shallow as he peered into her now-visible face." Presented as a two-novella set, this volume introduces a possible future world brought about in a way that has been unimagined by most. In this setting, a strange chemical reaction has contributed to the transformation of most, not all, men into zombie-like creatures intent on murder and consumption of their prey. Our primary protagonist, Lt. Jose Melendez, USMC at the time of the pandemic, is immune to the syndrome both because of his choice to remain celibate and his high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder. Melendez becomes the unwitting key to the future of all humankind as he takes part in a classified mission in Antarctica and the planet teeters on the edge of a major shift in social order. Just how much that social order has shifted becomes clear through the character of Major Mare Sade Singh, NCSF, as she struggles to reconcile her feelings with the status quo of Neamericana, one of three megastates that survived the disruption. Drawn with a careful eye to detail by an author who clearly knows his way around the human psyche, information is conveyed without any preachy monologues or info-dumping back story. Instead of telling the reader about general attitudes regarding homosexuality and heterosexuality, Erickson shows us in a way that is both natural and thought-provoking. Don't worry, though, the content itself is strictly PG. Even as the humans struggle to make sense of their worlds, one vastly different from the other, a rising race of cybernetic life-forms—androids, robots, or sapient artificial persons (APs)—works their way from basic machine toward full sapience. It isn't often that a work of such brevity spawns discussions of the difference between sentience and sapience at the same time that it examines the development of both of these attributes within the form of a living, fully capable being, but Erickson pulls it off. As the first volume of the impending series, Emergence sets up how this world has come about and where all the principle characters have come from. It is highly recommended that this first volume be read before any future volumes as some of the information about the characters is vital to understanding their motivation and why some of the APs may differ in their approach to resolving conflict than others. 

In Evolution, this growth of the APs continues, as does their involvement with the human/AP integrated society of Nemericana. Logical inconsistencies present moral dilemmas for the cybernetic beings to process even as Jose and his band of sentient APs struggle to change society from the inside out. Be careful before you pick up the set, though. The writing is highly engaging and lively. It's very easy to get lost in the action and carried away by your involvement with the characters. Even when the characters are not physically active, there is no sense of the story bogging down in thought. By the time you finish the second novella, perhaps the same day you picked up the first, you will be searching for the next one in the series. - Wendy StrainRECOMMENDED by the USR Future Prometheus: Emergence & Evolution