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Shelter Paperback – June 12, 2007
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Papa Preston Walford's world doesn't allow for coincidences. Accidents. Secrets in the backs of closets. Or the needs of his own daughter.
Meredith Preston has reason to seek shelter. She needs protection from the monsters in her mind, in her history, in her family. And the great storms of a changing climate have made literal shelter imperative.
When a cutting-edge, high-tech house, designed by a genius with a unique connection to Meredith, overcomes its programming to give shelter to a homeless man in a storm, from its closets emerge the revelations of a past too painful to remember.
In the world of Susan Palwick's Shelter, perception is about to meet reality, and reality has mud all over it. The truth won't make you happy, but it may just make you whole.
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2. The most interesting and likable characters are the talking house and Squeaky the Squirrel.
3. Preston, the man in the television, is downright creepy.
4. Too much detailed and interminable back story. Too many philosophical discussions about the nature of AI and disembodied entities, such as Preston. Are they sentient, are they not, can they own property, or not. What is their legal status? What is their moral status? I’d prefer more plot and less codswallop.
5. A tiny point, I know--but what’s with the old-fashioned names? Constance, Brenda, Roberta, etc.? This is supposed to take place in the future.
The setting is wonderful and dark in the SF Bay area.
The characters she interacts with are interesting, among which is an evolving AI, and the resolution is satisfying.
The portrayal of her inner states is masterful as she gradually opens up again to the world outside.
The world of a half-century or so from now is plausible and mildly depressive in nature, but it still left me by the end with a belief that things getting better was a strong possibility.
I thought this book was great!
It's that good.
Artificial intelligence. Mental illness.
A world where "looking out for #1" is the law, with consequences for caring.
You will ache for these characters.
You will dread the inevitable.
But you won't see it coming.
The book is not the usual type of thing I read... one decent way to describe it is as a near future family drama, but wow, it really does turn out to be pretty impressive. There's a lot going on, and it has a lot to say about mental illness, how you can harm people even with the best of intentions, forgiveness, AI rights, and a number of other issues, with a host of well-drawn and interesting characters and a mostly convincing and plausible extrapolation of our world.
There's a wide variety of characters, mostly human and a few AI, and a few who arguably could be either (one major underlying issue is Meredith's refusal to accept that her father actually is her father, and is instead just a clever machine, and different people will see different answers to that question), and mostly they're compelling and vivid and feel real, and their interactions kept me invested even when it became fairly clear generally where the plot was going... I knew more or less what was going to happen, but I still wanted to know exactly how, and how everyone would deal when they found out.
The setting does one of the things I like best in SF, really selling a near future world with dozens of tiny details. About the only major slipup is that phones and TV habits seem a bit too conventional, and there seems to be widespread acceptance of a non-Judeo-Christian religion (although, I was never clear if it was supposed to be the dominant one, or if it just happened to be influential to many of the main characters and some of the underlying philosophies were embraced by the world). Still, it's easy to ignore those minor issues and focus on the good. I particularly liked how plausible the "excessive altruism," something we'd consider laudable today, turning into being considered a mental illness was. It's not a blatant "selfishness is best" philosophy pervading the world, but more subtle. And the genius of it being shorthanded as "exalted" was a really nice touch. I kind of wish we got more on that topic, actually, maybe another story set in the universe.
Shelter doesn't hit you over the head with its messages, but it does give you a lot to think of, and I found myself very impressed with it. My biggest complaint is the ending seemed a little too... pat, with a few things working out just too conveniently good, when reality it should have been a little messier. Also, at times it does run a little slow and repetitive. Still, this is a book that I think can be read even by non-SF readers, and is something of an undiscovered gem, having received little mainstream acknowledgement.