Monday, May 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW The ABACUS Protocol: Sanity Vacuum

In space, no one can hear you scream...except, of course, the two adorable kittens that skulk the halls of the Extra-Galactic Observatory where young Vivian Skye landed an internship to further her studies of quantum informatics.

Ever hear of quantum informatics? Neither had I. Sorry, we're just not on Vivian's intellectual level. Suffice it to say, quantum informatics has to do with super-duper, high-end, near-sentient computers. I said near sentient. In the distant future that author Thea Gregory (or T. Gregory, as she is identified on the book jacket) describes, Earth has already had a run-in with malevolent sentient machinery, and is not about to let that happen again...hence the laws set forth in the ABACUS Protocol.


I've long been a fan of the science fiction genre. I've watched Star Trek, in all its incarnations, since I was a little girl. I grew up reading Douglas Adams and Greg Bear and Ray Bradbury. I love the deep intellectual romanticism of science fiction. In my opinion, the genre at its best is about humanity finding itself and defining itself against a foreign backdrop (space) and against unbelievable odds (aliens, malevolent supercomputers, etc.). Gregory's debut novel more than lives up to this ideal.

Vivian Skye hails from Aurora, a gorgeous agrarian planet that had long ago been colonized by humans. Like all the best science fiction protagonists, she's a bit of a misfit. Most Aurorans never leave their planet. They prefer farming to computer technology and leave the space travel to other, more intellectually curious, races. When Vivian enrolled in the only university on Aurora that taught quantum informatics, her family essentially disowned her.

So as nervous as she was to be traveling off-world for her internship on the Extra-Galactic Observatory, Vivian knew that she had been alone for a long time. And she was strong enough to face that. Besides, working with quIRK--the observatory's quantum computer--was worth it.

What can I tell you about quIRK? As Vivian explains to a fellow traveler as she prepares to leave Aurora for the first time:

"The Q and U are for quantum, and IRK is an inside joke about how irritating the system was to design."

So quIRK is an irksome quantum computer. A computer with a penchant for sarcasm and an affinity for the color antiblue (wish I could get a look at that!), and the company of kittens. quIRK shocked Vivian with his near-sentience at their first meeting  and her awe only grew as their working relationship deepened.

But Vivian's internship doesn't go swimmingly. The Observatory is run by Bryce Zimmer, an egomaniacal man from Caesarea, one of the only remaining planets that is still run with what is essentially a feudal system. He has his own political axe to grind, and a strong racist streak against Aurorans. So when strange accidents begin happening to Vivian, she doesn't know what to think: are they really simple accidents? Is Bryce plotting against her? Or is it quIRK, with his burgeoning self-awareness and his unsettling memory gaps?

The ABACUS Protocol: Sanity Vacuum is an adventurous tale of one young girl making her way in space. But it's also way more than that. It asks questions, like: what does it mean to be sentient? Does mere self-awareness make one an individual? Can a thinking computer feel? Could a thinking computer ever be equal to its creators?

Author Thea Gregory first caught my attention with her Zombie Bedtime Stories (buy them on amazon!). What I liked so much about her zombie stories was how she got me to think about this almost overly-played-out genre in an entirely different way. And she did that by writing stories that presented questions, like: what if zombies remain themselves even after they've changed? What if they're sort of captives within their zombified bodies? Are they still human?

I love a good story. And I love a good thoughtful discussion. The ABACUS Protocol: Sanity Vacuum (and indeed all of Thea Gregory's books) provide both.

Read and enjoy! Meet the author:


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good book, will have to borrow it sometime soon.