Anax thinks she knows history. Her grueling all-day Examination has just begun, and if she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be. In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim? Outstanding and original, Beckett’s dramatic narrative comes to a shocking conclusion.
Okay, so this book is for real sci-fi, absolutely no romance, and barely any plot, really. The three Examiners basically have Anaximander recite The Republic’s (complete with Plato) history as part of her examination. Basically, The Republic is formed just before the world releases “plagues” on each other. I’m assuming that’s biological warfare, and how Beckett describes gunners shooting refugees in Republic waters is pretty horrific. The refugees and ships eventually stop showing up, and we learn more about The Republic’s social structure. What we’re most worried about are the Soldier and the Philosopher classes.
Anaximander is a young girl, and I gauged her to be about fifteen or sixteen. She is obsessed with Adam Forde, who is seen as a hero for his deeds. Adam was a womanizer in a time when men and women lived separately, and he’d gotten into a few scrapes while he was a Soldier. He’d been reassigned to a remote lighthouse (or something) with another Soldier. They were still ordered to shoot refugees on sight. A woman in a raft floats up to the fence marking the Republic’s borders, and instead of shooting her, Adam shoots his partner and saves the girl.
It’s clear from the beginning that Anax considers Adam’s choice romantic, and she sees him as a romantic hero. This view continues even during her recounting of Adam’s punishment. He had a trial in which he said he saved the girl by listening to his heart. Instead of killing him, which would have caused a massive uproar, Adam is placed into a room with a robot. The robot was built by a guy whose name I can’t remember and Adam, being from the Philosopher class, has some high and mighty ideals regarding the sentient minds of machines. The robot’s name is Art, he has the face of a gorilla, and he acts a bit like a snotty nine-year-old. Art and Adam fight, both physically and with words.
Anax is asked to show videos/holograms of Adam’s interactions with Art. The Examiners are increasingly disturbed by her presentation, and when she begins showing Adam accepting Art’s overtures, the Examiners tell her a few awful things about her hero, Adam.
In the end, we learn that Anax is a robot! That was a huge twist for me and something I wasn’t expecting. Anax is not there to audition for the Academy, as it is closed to new members. Anax has been found out by Pericles, ostensibly her tutor but also an agent of the Academy, whose job is to search out robots with a virus that could make them too powerful. In the end, Pericles rips Anax’s head from her shoulders. Intensity.