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Reality 36: A Richards and Klein Novel - Guy Haley

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reality 36: A Richards and Klein Novel - Guy Haley

In the year 2069, the first true Artificial Intelligence is created.  Thirty years later the Class Fives are born, becoming the first fully self-aware AIs.  Along with their less advanced cousins, "Fives" become known as the Nuekind.  One of them is Richards, a private detective considered to be the most human of his kind.  Richards is approached by the EuPol (think European Union/Interpol) to investigate the disappearance of the world's foremost expert in Nuekind rights.  Unfortunately for Richards and Klein, it appears their quarry has hidden himself in Reality Realm 36, a now defunct game world populated by AIs and thus afforded the same rights as Reality itself.

In true Angry Robot form, Reality 36 has lots of robot stuff.  There are cyborgs, androids, cydroids (what?), super AIs, wussy AIs, and insane AIs.  The internet is on steroids and with a little work the more powerful AIs can send themselves anywhere there's a connection with enough bandwidth to handle them.  Naturally, there's no shortage of action.  Klein, a decommissioned military cyborg, is almost never still.  He leaps over cars, absorbs dozens of flechettes, and generally causes mayhem wherever he shows up.  By contrast, Richards is an investigator and a bit of a flirt.  He prefers to let Klein get his hands dirty while he plays the mental game.

While the action is very well done, the part that works most in Haley's favor is the application of technology.  Everything just makes sense.  Haley's world hinges on the discovery of the Singularity within the next hundred years.  This application of processing power leads to, as Ray Kurzweil stated, "technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history".  Thanks to this technological change, game worlds (think World of Warcraft) have developed to the point of becoming alternate realities with machines as aware and alive as those existing in Real Space.  Makes sense, right?  I know I can think of a few humans that spend more time living in a game world than in reality.

This reality (so far as science fiction goes) is what makes the book so compelling.  It's an actual glimpse into the future as much as it's a mystery yarn and an action thriller.  Isn't that what Science Fiction is all about?  I hesitate to put the label of "hard sci-fi" on Reality 36, but only because I don't have the knowledge base to determine how much of what Haley has created is nonsense versus actual science.  What I do know is it reads authentic.  When bullets aren't flying I felt like I was having a discussion with the author about the implications the Singularity will have on humanity.  And that's cool.

Generally speaking Haley writes a strong narrative.  In my head as I was reading the novel I was comparing it favorably to another debut from earlier this year - Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief.  They really aren't similar in any way other than they read with a similar pace and absence of information dumping (a pet peeve of mine).  While there are some expositions from time to time about the world's history, for the most part Haley allows the understanding of his reality to be absorbed organically as opposed to forcing it down his reader's throat.  When he does ramble a bit, it's usually integrated into a character that's a bit of a windbag (Hughie, I'm looking at you dude!)  I thought this formula was very successful in Thief and Haley accomplishes it here as well in Reality 36.

My only fundamental problem with the novel is that it's not complete.  Haley ends things on a pretty brutal cliff hanger akin to the season finale of a TV drama.  The way the title is currently worded makes it seem as though the book will read a bit like a TV procedural where each Richards and Klein Novel is a mystery to be solved, but fully encapsulated within the pages of the book.  Instead Reality 36 is more like Reality 36: The First of Half of a Richards and Klein Duology.  I know I shouldn't be too upset about it, but there it is.  Even first installments in a larger series should have a beginning, middle, and an end (call me close minded). 

Ultimately, the only conclusion I was able to draw from Reality 36 is that I'll definitely be checking out the sequel Omega Point next year.  Sure the ending was annoying, but Guy Haley has really produced a first rate robot novel.  While Robopocalypse is this years hottest robot release and will assuredly sell more copies, I think Reality 36 is a superior novel in almost every way.  Angry Robot Books keeps churning out great additions in speculative fiction.

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