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by Donna Andrews
Prime Crime, May 2003
304 pages
ISBN: 0425188566

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Turing Hopper, the sentient AIP, is back to solve another arcane crime. Turing, concerned about the security of her home at Universal Libraries, has hired Ray Santiago to direct the building of a new system into which Turing plans to move. Here two human assistants are in good positions to help her. Maude Graham, while remaining as a secretary at UL, is also in charge of the company that controls the new system, Alan Grace. Tim Pincoski has become a certified P.A.

Progress comes to a standstill, however, when the body of Ray is found the victim, police believe, of a drug sale gone wrong. Turing is concerned about how much information Ray had on him and whether someone was preparing to use the data to mount an attack on her. Maude and Tim are sent out to start the investigation of the murder since the police do not seem to care. In the course of the investigation, Tim meets Claudia Diazo, a P.I. out of Miami, who becomes a valued member of the team.

Very quickly the group discovers that Rayıs background is a sham and he was never who he said he was. Tim, introduced to an online game by Ray, Beyond Paranoia, and the others find this one more place to look to discover what Ray was about. Is this game preparing for an attack on Turing? Was Ray murdered as part of the game? Is the game a front for something more dangerous? All these are questions that must be answered.

The AIP characters in this book are splendidly drawn. Turing is so well done I keep forgetting she is not a human being and has certain limitations (immobility) as well as some very great advantages over mere humans. KingFisher, another AIP, who was helpful before, is developing more and more sentience although Turing worries that he has little empathy for humans. He is, after all, a master chess player. The human characters are perhaps less well developed although Tim, as a struggling and often inept P.A., is most engaging and Maude, who is young in heart if not in body, is a role model for readers. Claudia, also, adds some salsa to the mix.

We follow the characters through dark alleys and sunlit streets, into bars and fast food joints, into their offices and through their computers into the mind of Turing. We watch the online game become more real than actuality. The whole hazardous journey is exciting and appealing.

I like the shift in points of view. We get to eavesdrop on Turing and her actual thoughts and emotions (strange as that may sound for an AIP) as she maneuvers to learn what is going on. Then, when we move to the human players, we have a third person point of view, following them about together and separately, and witnessing their actions.

The plot is mysterious and fascinating and at the end frightening. We do not know where we are being led and the threat to everyone we have learned to love is alarming. And there are some loose ends, as always in life, leaving us wondering what the next book will bring.

You may read this as a fascinating adventure and a story of an unlikely heroine and stop with that. But there are also questions that begin to occur as you read. What exactly is human? What are the characteristics that make a human being? Can an artificial intelligence have these characteristics? What are the limits of privacy when computers can search all records and learn everything about us and our backgrounds. Turing has ethics, but will others have these same scruples? And where does the public welfare begin and individual rights end? As Turing puts it:

The thought of an AIP pursuing even a worthwhile goal, but pursuing it with the absolute power we could wield if we chose, and the sense of moral certainty that comes from seeing things only in black and white -- that scares me. Scares me even more than anything a mere human criminal could invent.

Are there humans who fit this caveat as well? Should we be frightened of attacks on our privacy by anyone?

And as the story arc reaches fruition, you cannot help but wonder where the line is between reality and make believe. It is a very thin line and increasingly we cross it without realizing it. Are we getting ready to fight a war in the Middle East because we believe it is just another reality game on television, for example?

I like a book that makes me think as well as brings me great enjoyment, and Donna Andrews has succeeded in both.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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