TODAY I AM CAREY by Martin L. Shoemaker, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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TODAY I AM CAREY by Martin L. Shoemaker, Review

Alexander Wallace visits the near-future.
Much has been made of how, if at all, the coming of artificial intelligence alters our notion of what it means to be human. Already, there are people who live with technology embedded in them. Blade Runner 2049 updated the original’s premise to discuss the notion, and films like AI: Artificial Intelligence and Ex Machina made bold interrogations thereof. But, in my humble opinion, none of those are quite as good in this field as Martin Shoemaker’s 2019 novel Today I am Carey, published by Baen Books.

The narrator and the novel’s namesake is a medical android originally tasked with helping an elderly woman in the last days of her life. Strangely, Carey’s programmed sense of empathy and its ability to observe people has given it a conscience in a way that has never been replicated. To its shock, Carey is requested for purchase by the family after her death, and he spends the next several decades tending to their needs and wants and addressing the typical family ups and downs over that span of time.

What is so striking about this book is how detailed Carey is as a character, and how tender the storyline is. To paraphrase a story by Arthur C. Clarke, Carey is “not human, but humane.” I must say I did not expect to be so emotionally devastated by a science fiction novel of this sort, but there is a real emotional resonance to an impressive number of scenes. I legitimately teared up at a number of sequences, particularly one involving the celebration of a holiday.

An aspect that will go unremarked upon but I thought was quite potent was the pacing. The chapters of Today I am Carey are oftentimes very short, sometimes only a single paragraph. Shoemaker shows himself to be an expert at zeroing in the most emotionally powerful aspect of any given situation, and provides you with only the most necessary context to make your gut feel the punch. That does not mean it is sparse - by no means is this the case - but he has a way of using every little detail in a way that wastes not a single word.

What is perhaps the most refreshing is how unrepentantly optimistic Shoemaker is as an author. Very few people here are cruel, and the major incidents of the plot are driven by those with noble if misguided intentions. Shoemaker believes in humanity in a genre who all too often puts most of its faith solely in technology.

I am stunned that Today I Am Carey wasn’t nominated for a Hugo. Hell, I’m stunned this book didn’t win a Hugo. This is a wonderfully written, deeply intimate book about what it means to be a person, and it has ‘science fiction classic’ written all over it. Read it as soon as you can.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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