Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
The Dark Manual Paperback – May 10, 2018
See the Best Books of 2018 So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year so far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
About the Author
Colin O'Sullivan lives in the north of Japan with his family and works as an English teacher. He is the author of three novels and numerous short stories, published in various print and online anthologies around the world. Colin O'Sullivan's first novel, "Killarney Blues," captivated critics and readers alike and won the prestigious Prix Mystère de la critique in France. His second novel, "The Starved Lover Sings," comes out in Russian translation in 2019.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Isaac Asinov had Three Laws of Robotics. 1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Asinov's laws are sourly tested in Colin O'Sullivan's new novel, The Dark Manual. The author, Winner of the Prix Mystere de la 2018, just gets better with each book, and with this, his third, he is becoming one of the finest storytellers out there. His prose keeps one glued to the page, with delightful concentration.
Colin O'Sullivan does not write a bad line. His characters become a part of the reader as they turn the pages, and they dwell in the mind between reads. I found myself setting the book down, two or three times, but not able to leave it until I picked it up again, and read some more. Colin O'Sullivan's writing style reminds me so of jazz, with it's one word, then two word, then three word sentences. Bop, bop, bop-bop, until you realize you have read a paragraph, then on to a new riff. Lyrical, powerful, humorous, poetic, emotional. He is a lyrical master of the written word. There are sections of the book that are heartbreaking, in their emotional and physical sense of loss, and moments of humor, surprise, suspense, pure sudden horror, and stark naked joy.
Susie Sakamoto, came from Ireland, to live in Japan with her husband, Masa, who designed and built “Homebots,” domestic home robots. There primary role, to clean the home, cook, make drinks, tend to the owner, and stand still in the corner when turned off for the night. With their little boy, Zen they have a happy life, until one day when Susie bids goodbye to her son and husband at the airport, where they are setting off on a trip to South Korea. A trip that becomes tragic when a errant missile launched from North Korea causes the plane they are on to break apart, pieces, and bodies of those on board falling into the sea. Her dear husband and darling son, suddenly gone. There bodies never recovered.
Susie now spends her days in a deep depression, going over the what ifs; coming to hate the homebot, that lives with her, and staying drunk most of the time. Appearing at work, where she is a reporter occasionally, but contemplating suicide, and spending nights in a bar getting wasted and mourning the tremendous loss she has suffered. A drunken Irishwoman in Japan, with little reason to get up in the morning, except to order the home robot to bring her another drink, while outside in the trees, the owls are gathering, as if something is amiss.
At the bar she hangs out at each night, Susie becomes somewhat friendly with the ultra free spirit and flamboyant Mixxy Makanea, a Japanese woman who speaks English, and pretty much does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she wants. When Mixxy struts into a bar, all heads turn. Green streaked hair, fishnet stockings, glossy lips, and just a touch of white powder under her nostrils, she is ready to steal the evening. Mizzy is one of the great characters from the author. With her flash, flamboyancy, and pizzazz she colors the novel with her profane antics, and so what attitude. Mixxy also feels the presence of the owls. Knows they are in the trees. Watching.
Susie continues to struggled with whether to live or die, and blacken it all out once and for all. Her anguish palpable. Her loss profound. Her hatred for the annoying domestic robot growing each day. Then she begins to hear about a Dark Manual a legendary means to shut off all the machines, that might or might not be. Susie starts thinking about if she could find it, she could shut the damn thing off. Shut them all off. If she could get Mixxy to help her, could they find it? Did her husband write it? Is it nearby?
Meanwhile the homebot waits. All the hombots wait. Lights flashing on and off. Eerie sounds emitting from where there mouth would be. Do they come into the bedroom at night to watch the sleeper? Are they capable of harm? If Susie and Mixxy find the Dark Manual, will the machines know, and try to stop them from shutting them down? Can they think? Can they communicate with other hombots? Can they cause harm?
Worst of all, can they kill?
While outside more owls gather in the trees, and now also, the crows. They too gather and caw in the trees and rooftops. More and more of them. Watching. Waiting.
The novel’s protagonist, Susie Sakamoto, is fighting despair. Her life is empty, devoid of hope, pleasure, she’s suicidal. She’s drinking too much. The airplane her computer/robot genius husband and eight-year-old son were flying on was shot down by a North Korean missile, and even though their bodies haven’t washed ashore, her optimism is fading. The obsequious efficiency of her home robot named Sonny (actually created by her husband’s company) is gnawing at her daily struggle to cope with her depression. She dislikes her dead-end position where she writes puff-pieces for a mediocre media outlet. Susie can’t even face well-intentioned assistance from her Japanese mother-in-law with whom she should be able to commiserate over the destruction of her family.
In O’Sullivan’s vision of near-future Japan, short officious robots called homebots dart through houses and apartments doing the cleaning, preparing meals, making drinks, and greeting their masters and mistresses from work. They can summon the family’s driverless car from the garage and provide detailed breakfast suggestions based on morning health scans and daily nutritional updates. They can heat the evening bath. People change the channels and settings of their entertainment devices with remote-control gloves and communicate by Hologram Message Screens. The nature of crime has even evolved and been upgraded. Cars are no longer hot-wired; kids hack into automotive security systems and bypass their password/codes.
Susie is also beginning to sense that some type of a natural, animal-like nocturnal presence is watching her from high buildings when she is alone out. Is it owls? Have they mistaken her for food? She muses to herself: “Am I trespassing?” In a drunken realization, she even speculates that perhaps “the owls will bring [her son] back.”
The manual in the novel’s title refers to an urban myth that revolves around the existence of a book of instructions that explain how to change the settings and codings of homebots so that they will commit crimes or function as assassins. Does this manual actually exist? If so, who wrote it? Where is it? Susie doesn’t give a s--t unless the Dark Manual might help her commit suicide. She excoriates Sonny one morning: “You haven’t figured it out, have you? The present tense is no longer viable.” A world without a present tense doesn’t have room for bright, shiny futures, either.
Colin O’Sullivan’s third novel bears some resemblance to his second one, The Starved Lover Sings: both are set 15 or 20 years in a mostly recognizable future Japan whose economy is slumping and whose citizens have been inured to periodic threats from North Korea. Technology has solved many problems; it has also created new ones. Homebots perform menial tasks, but their ubiquity prompts another question: “How are we ever to know what a homebot is thinking? Thinking?”
I enjoyed this dark, relatively pessimistic novel, especially during scenes that featured Mizzy, a green-coiffured, sex-starved, drug-snorting sybarite who arms her homebot with a dildo and not-very-secretly lusts after Susie. My favorite thought-provoking moment. Susie is beginning to suspect that Sonny has become a bit snooty: not quite refusing her commands, but hesitating too much, hedging its answers and action. Susie wants to apply poker psychology 101 to her homebot problem: “Where is [Sonny’s] tell?. . . How could you ever know what it knows, when its creator was not around to give you any clues.”
I laughed out loud when I first pondered the far-fetched absurd, sci-fi notion of a robot with a tell. Then I started to seriously think about robots who can think and act for themselves or as part of a network. Hmm. Maybe I’ll keep my homebot locked in the basement.