by MG Wheaton
‘I sweep across the world like the break of dawn.’
Emily Eternal combines cutting edge technology, speculative science and scientific fantasy in a racy thriller that doubles as a crazy love story. At the same time, it digs into the human psyche searching for answers to age-old questions. Does free will matter? Where is evolution destined to take our species?
‘While, yes, I could cheat by altering the simulation around me – my hair, which doesn’t really exist, doesn’t get wet under the non-existent shower and doesn’t actually need to get dried by an imagined hair dryer.’
Emily is an artificial consciousness, created by MIT scientist Nathan Wyman and residing in a simulation of the university campus. Designed as a sort of super psychiatrist to analyse and treat mental illness, she interfaces with her “team” and her humans patients via a microchip fixed to their necks, which enables them to see her as a real person. Not only does Emily feel human and experience human emotions but she is capable of learning and developing new powers beyond anything her creator intended for her. Or is she?
So far so good. There is just one problem that dwarfs all others; the sun is about to become a red giant, destroying all life on earth. And because the first thing to go will be electric power, Emily will die along with everyone else – unless she can come up with a cunning plan. Meantime, she falls in love with Jason Hatta, a dishy post-grad from Washington. In replacing one of his memories, she shows just how human she is, and how subject to human emotions.
‘The lights go off. We sink onto the bed and kiss for another quarter of an hour. For the two hours after that, we make love But that’s all I’m going to say about that. Okay, for the sake of science, I’ll say a little more.’
Then she meets Dr Choksi and discovers that with a modified interface she can read human beings down to the molecular level. Working with Choksi, Nathan and his team, Emily comes up with a solution, an alternative to total extinction. Using mass server banks, she will collect a portrait of the DNA and personality of every human being on the planet to make a digital ark. Then the ark will be shot into space in the hope of being found by some future alien civilisation capable of “re-creating” homo sapiens.
Before the plan can be put into operation, the campus is attacked by a rival operation and Emily goes on the run with Jason and Mayra, a rural sheriff. Their objective now is to find eight people with unusual strands of DNA who might offer a different solution to the human dilemma.
‘My entire being takes up 100 terabytes worth of storage space. These biogenetic portraits are over 1,000 terabytes each.’
As it turns out, Emily is too human; she loves humanity and wishes it to be preserved in all its diversity, both the strong and the weak, and with its free will intact. She does not consider until too late that there may be a third way of saving the species. But as biological creatures stripped of everything that makes them human, are they worth saving?
For sure, Emily Eternal is a novel aimed primarily at readers who grew up in the digital age. Not being in that category, I had to reread the first couple of chapters to “get it”. But after that I was hooked. There are some great fights. The “love” scenes, while not exactly erotic, are kind of nice – and one wonders if ….. enough said!
Emily Eternal is a fast-moving story, full of speculative, challenging and even crazy ideas, and not without its humour. It is a novel, one feels, with several possible endings. Wheaton takes us down one path after another only to repeatedly change direction. The resolution, when it comes, is not the most obvious, but it has a comforting inevitability. Change or go into the darkness.
No one has yet (as far as I know) created an artificial consciousness. However, with the advances in AI and virtual reality, maybe the concept is not so far fetched as it might seem. 🙂