To use the phrase "Hamlet in space" to describe The White Abacus is not a criticism; the book is a Shakespearean tour de force set far in the future. "Hu" (humans) are scientifically sophisticated, but emotionally immature. "Ai" (artificial intelligence) are rational and peace-loving, though more politically developed than most hu know. In most of the universe, hu and ai live together in harmony, but not in the Asteroid Belt of humanity's home solar system. An isolationist movement there left the pioneers extremely religious and dead set against using the "hex gates" that enable instantaneous travel between planets. Life on Psyche in the Belt remains a serious business, for humans only--no ai allowed.
Psyche's young prince Telmah (try reading it backwards) is sent to Earth to study, and there befriends an ai being named Ratio who has been painfully separated from the Gestell, a unified state of the ai. Telmah and his friends spend their days studying, romping, and playing at sophisticated games. Back at home, his uncle Feng allegedly murders Telmah's father, marries the widowed mother, and usurps the Directorship. Determined to avenge his father, Telmah returns home to confront Uncle Feng. The faithful Ratio accompanies him, but unbeknownst to Telmah, Ratio has another motive besides friendship--a secret assignment from the Gestell.
Sound familiar? A fast-moving, updated version of the Hamlet tale, The White Abacus offers comedy, space opera, literary puzzles, and not a few surprises. --Bonnie Bouman