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Beautiful Intelligence Paperback – June 29, 2015
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About the Author
Stephen Palmer is the author of nine published SF novels - Memory Seed and Glass (Orbit), Flowercrash, Muezzinland and Hallucinating (Wildside Press), Urbis Morpheos (PS Publishing), The Rat & The Serpent (originally under the name Bryn Llewellyn, now as an ebook from infinity plus books), Hairy London and Beautiful Intelligence (both infinity plus). His short fiction has been published by NewCon Press, Solaris, Wildside Press, SF Spectrum, Eibonvale Press, Unspoken Water and Rocket Science. He lives and works in Shropshire, UK.
Top customer reviews
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I really enjoyed this author’s work, The Rat and the Serpent; and when this novel came to my attention I couldn't help but wonder how he would treat the notion of artificial intelligence. I started reading and I couldn't help but draw some comparisons to the work of William Gibson and then there were images right out of Do androids dream of electric sheep by Philip K. Dick. Needless I was drawn into the whole thing and thoroughly enjoyed it. That is not to say there weren't some puzzling elements that made me wonder just what universe this came out of.
This is a dystopic tale of two competing teams of bio-engineers trying to build toward the singularity by creating artificial intelligence; but because there are two teams we have AI and then BI which accounts for the beautiful intelligence. The teams come out of a single lab where two people have virtually been held prisoner while developing for a company. The world into they escape to is one that has shifted from the western dominated internet to the new eastern dominated nexus. The big difference touted is that the nexis is more styled to a Japanese culture that is less individualistic and more collective and that's where I had to stop and think.
This is a ‘what if’ novel, which hinges largely on what if the collective Japanese culture dominated the nexis and thereby had more emphasis on the collective and less on individual thereby creating an environment where there was less privacy and more exposure when connected. The story emphasizes this collective mind as both a key point in the nexus and in the whole pursuit of the teams by a collective company that has to try to adjust its thinking to individualism of the west and the United States. Also an underlying theme is that the nexus is forcing all people to this collective nature. And this works; but only if you go back to 1980 and pre 1980 because since then the Japanese and other asian countries have almost reached a level of individualization that rivals or exceeds the US. (But keep in mind I'm not an expert on this in any way)
That aside this is what this universe is in this 'what if' and so it affords the two teams the advantage or at least the illusion of advantage that the man pursuing them has to alter his thinking in order to understand them in order to find them. It also sets the mood for some of the main characters who think that they are drowning in this collective oppression and they have to go solo or fly under the radar (nexus), often as sort of ghost or silhouettes that are decoys to cover their tracks.
This is a complex story that evolves around the two teams as they flee in separate continents from the same threat with their diverse experiments and devolves into a sort of dialogue about the merits of two different approaches to the AI problem.
Leonora and team have created a single entity named Zeug and they believe through teaching it language it will become conscious. (My best description of what they get is ‘think Frankenstein.)
Manfred and team have created 9 entities Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Grey, White, Violet, Orange and Indigo. They have created a community of peers that will learn and develop by creating their own social structure. (Initially they have them linked together but this proves to retard their progress. Oddly they are almost like a collective.)
Both methods are fraught with errors in thinking and the story evolves around how the teams deal with those while at the same time keeping one step ahead of the bad guys. Adding to this is the need to be hidden from the nexus; though neither team seems to have made much provision for the possibility that the ever invasive nexus might creep into their whole experiment.
There are several moments when the characters philosophize about various related topics such as a mention of the Hierarchy of knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom. But possibly the most important was one that seemed for me to be fraught with some illusive and obtuse semantics is from this quote.
[QUOTE]Manfred shook his head. "It all started when personality became important. Old fashioned character was strangled by personality, and we all had to be smiling and go-getting and extrovert for the endless rows of cameras. $%^& @#$%^&* media. But, you know Dirk, you’re half correct. The internet and the nexus have leaned on humanity, and they’ve squashed a lot of individualism out of us."
Palmer, Stephen (2015-06-29). Beautiful Intelligence (Kindle Locations 3768-3771). infinity plus. Kindle Edition. [/QUOTE]
It's difficult to understand from even the context of the entire novel just what exactly these two words are meant to mean: Personality and Character. In many instances they a synonyms of each other and yet here they are treated as different things. Much like the old further and farther thing but more complicated. At best what I could draw from this is that maybe Personality here is best compared to Persona or the image one puts on in the Nexus as opposed to Character being related to the true self, though in this context it also has to include something with individuality where some how the personae or the personality in reference is part of the nexus collective or as one character calls it the identikit.
There are so many well developed characters in this story that the reader needs a score card for each; not to mention there is a bit of changing of sides between teams that helps confuse things. But the largest portion of the novel is bent on understanding the motivation of each team to coincide with how they get to where they are.
Oddly enough for this reader the main character that I most related to and felt empathy for was Indigo, who shows the most growth and development throughout the entire piece.
There is a bit of a mystery in the story with Manfred's 9 in that at one point one of the 9 seems to possibly be killing the others. I'm not sure this was solved but you need to read this to find out what you think.
This is great SFF with a touch of Cyberpunk and Some great android development with a hint of mystery and lots of suspense so there's a bit for everyone. Probably not much for the Romance lovers though.
If there's a vote for more of this world and what might happen next I'll put mine in.
A must read and I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The plot is smart, the writing is great, and the pay-off is strong.
I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great read that makes you think.
But I'm not bashing the book because of its ideas. I just found it terrifyingly boring. While many writers of sci-fi are content with either (1) skipping characterization almost entirely and just spelling the damn thing out through their character-mouthpieces, or (2) intercalating the idea developments with fast-paced action that make you even forget the characters are supposed to be people, Stephen Palmer has his characters wander a grey area of indefinition, for a similarly indefinite amount of time, while he tries to flesh them out, but somehow never manages to. The action, when it happens, is actually fine, but the writer takes pains to make sure most of it doesn't really go anywhere. So you're stuck with more permutations of the character watching things happen and dancing about the ideas. On paper, this may have seemed like a pro sci-fi plot, but the execution has fallen quite flat.
As far I've understood from the other reviews, this goes on until the bloody end. I didn't manage to go that far - dropped out at 70%. Yes, Stephen Palmer has made a 330-page book seem unbearably long. If anything good comes out of this, it is a new appreciation for authors like Neal Stephenson, which can hold your breath for 1000 pages or more while developing fresh ideas.