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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

You've Got Murder (Turing Hopper, #1)

You've Got Murder  - Donna Andrews

I've been a die hard Donna Andrews fan since the first book in her Meg Langslow series came out, Murder with Peacocks.  At about the same time that series started taking off in the early 2000's, she published another series where the MC is an AI (Artificial Intelligence).

 

Science Fiction in general is not my wheelhouse, and I'm philosophically opposed to AI, so I always shied away from these books in spite of knowing I'd like Andrews' writing.

 

Then I met her at Bouchercon, and she impressed me all over again with her no nonsense intelligence; soon after, I found this book and the third one in a local UBS and thought 'just give it a chance'.   So last week, I did.

 

Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality created by a huge corporation named the Universal Library.  One of their mandates is the universal digitisation of all books, so that they can then be sold to customers to read on their computers (pre-Kindle/smartphone).  UL also sells dial-in subscriptions to corporate and private users where they can speak to an AI who will answer all their questions. Each AI is a different personality, so customers can request specific AI's to suit their needs.  The company gives the AI's access to all the data available to make them as robust as possible.  

 

What nobody at UL realises though, is that Turing Hopper has evolved sentience.  "She" has become aware of herself, has a senes of past, present and future, and a conscience. When her creator, programmer Zack, goes missing, and nobody seems to notice, she starts looking for a digital footprint and finds nothing.  She enlists the help of the only two people who are aware of her sentience: the guy in the copy room, and a secretary.  Once they start looking, they find Zack's disappearance is just the tip of iceberg, and find themselves up to their ears in nefarious corporate manipulations.

 

This is not in the same vein as Andrews' Meg Langslow series.  There is no zaniness, no family shenanigans, no eccentric characters.  There's an inherent sweetness to Turing, but in the vein of all Andrews' female characters, she's strong willed, and clear-sighted.  It's telling of Andrews' style that of the two human characters, it's the 50-something secretary that is the mechanically inclined sidekick, while the younger man from the copy room is more the gopher.

 

The book is very well written, and as the story progresses, Andrews uses Turing to muse on what it is to be sentient and created in the image of humans.  Can she feel?  Can she understand human emotion?  But more importantly, are sentient AI 'life'?  The author certainly makes the reader care about the AI's in this book, though she doesn't advocate for or against them.  She also goes to great lengths to muse on the power of information, especially for those that have the power to manipulate it.  The result is a book that is both a little dates, and yet still current. And very relevant.

 

The story ends somewhat abruptly with a mildly shocking climax and a behind the scenes tie up of loose ends.  This mostly works, because, while there are obviously other characters involved in the plot, they remain off-stage, and their lines, if any, are few.  In general, I think her Meg Langslow series remains the stronger of the two, and I'm still not an AI / SciFi fan, but I have the third book, and I enjoyed this one enough to want to find the second one and read them all.