Wednesday, 22 February 2012
The Two Faces of Tomorrow - James P. Hogan
Title: The Two Faces of Tomorrow
Author: James P. Hogan
Baen Books (Free Ebook)
The Book Depository
I only ended up reading "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" by John P. Hogan thanks to the 2012 Sci-Fi Reader Challenge. As part of the challenge I had to read an "Adult" Science Fiction novel and as I didn't really know how to really define this, I decided that a "Hard" Science Fiction novel would surely fit the requirement. So I hunted the internet and I discovered "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" which was in a few top ten lists of Hard Science Fiction, and as an added bonus, the e-book could be obtained for free from Baen Books. So, thanks to the power of the internet and a book challenge I ended up reading what turned out to be a very interesting and engrossing novel.
The novel is set in the mid-21st century and follows a team of scientists lead by Dr Raymond Dyer who are attempting to develop a computer programme that is capable of learning, adapting and using something similar to the common sense inherent in humans. When a computer programme manages to almost kill a group of engineers due to its logical handling of a situation, Dr Dyer and his team are brought in to discuss the ramifications. The various discussions and thoughts around the situation leads to the government agreeing to conduct an experiment on a newly constructed space station whereby, the military alongside various scientists will attempt to shut down an Artificial Intelligence that has been coded with a survival instinct. The outcome however, is more that anyone imagined or planned for and therefore things quickly get out of hand.
I have to admit that the core of the story probably doesn't really cover anything new in the genre as it is primary based around the exploits of Artificial Intelligence and what it could do in an attempt to ensure its survival. As most people have probably seen the "Terminator" movies they can probably easily imagine the types of things that would happen in this novel. However, I did think the ending itself was rather satisfying and was actually quite unexpected and different to many of the other man vs. machine type scenarios I have read about or seen.
The main issue with the book that some readers may have is the pacing in the initial portions of the book. Hogan delves quite deeply into some philosophical debates about the nature of technology and its use by humanity. After a while the whole thing did begin to feel like it was dragging on, so that it was affecting the overall forward momentum of the plot. Personally, I found the debate and descriptions used in the initial sections of the novel to be rather interesting so I didn't mind the meandering pace, but I can imagine it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
However, once the story moves onto the space station and the face-off between humanity and the computer began, the book really started to pick up the pace. Basically, at this stage, the book becomes more about the action and imagery, than discussion and ideas and I found it to be very entertaining. The book really does cover both thoughtful philosophy and enjoyable adventure in equal doses; it was just a shame that Hogan didn't find a way to mix them up in a manner that ensured the entire plot from start to finish moved forward with purpose.
In regards to the characters, I haven't read any other Hogan novels but I am curious now to know if he has gotten better since writing this novel at their utilisation and development. They just all felt very flat and there were a lot of them that I can't even remember now only a week or so after reading the book. In addition, at several points he seems to fall back on using cliques, this was particularly true in regards to the romantic relationship between Dr Dyer and Laura which felt like the standard, "we act like we don't like each other, but we really do" style of relationship. None of this really affected my enjoyment of the story but I feel the novel could have been even better if the characters had a little bit more development and variety.
Overall, I found the story to be an enjoyable mix of hard science and entertainment which shows that a book doesn't have to sacrifice one element for the other. If you enjoy science fiction, and in particular like to dabble in hard science fiction then you probably won't go wrong in picking this novel up to read.
Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Sci-Fi Reader Challenge