⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
(This review contains spoilers)
After shunning his fellow man in a quest to create the perfect lifeform, a scientist pays a terrible price to find his own lost humanity in the latest novel from Will St. Mimmiac.
In Dead City, Mimmiac’s previous, an offshoot race of human beings living on Mars take extreme measures to protect themselves from nosy Earthlings so the idea that man is not always welcome isn’t a new one to the author. That novel’s humans were brutish ancestors to be avoided; a corrupting disease to be quarantined. Perhaps the Fermi paradox is easily answered by even a cursory glance at the headlines or a few minutes in front of a television.
Prostheses may be a logical step for the author but it’s a terrific leap for us. The storytelling is as coldly efficient as the mc, making his machines seems lively by contrast. Slowly, we learn details along with these robots and through the scientist’s rantings we begin to sense what drives the man. Or more to the point of the narrative, what drove him away.
Robots have become more than the old scientist’s only friends: they eventually become quite literally his eyes and ears as his aging sight and fine muscle control begin to fail him. In order to continue building his ideal specimen, the scientist must replace his decrepit digits, limbs and even muscles and nerves with synthetic parts, making him less human with each step. Less human physically, perhaps, but since brain transplantation eludes even his remarkable achievements, he finds himself trapped within a strong new shell: an old, bitter mind full of a lifetime of disdain for, and with no use for, humankind.
This scientist (called only Hoffman) preaches his anti-humanity rhetoric to his growing cadre of machines: robots to assist, clean and cook for him, an audience to be taught that mankind is a scourge on the planet. A disease that knows no limits in its neverending drive to dominate and oppress. And speaking of disease, Hoffman’s creation will never know sickness or weakness, never age and presumably never die. A creation he himself may be slowly becoming, or the closest the scientist will ever get to achieving his goal.
Ironically and most importantly, as Hoffman becomes less and less human through constant cybernetic enhancements, his motives begin to shift away from isolationistic self validation to a growing need to use his newfound vigor to assist his once shunned human brethren. As news of an unexplained natural disaster reaches the scientist in his lab, he decides to venture outside for the first time in over thirty years to offer assistance, reassuring his manufactured mechanical family that he will return.
Unfortunately for him, however, his robotic students have taken the years of pessimistic teachings to “heart” (or motherboard) and, in the novel’s final stab, refuse to let him re-enter their “sanctuary.” They, as Hoffman taught them again and again over the years, have no need for humankind and now see him not as their father or creator but as one of “them,” and, believing themselves as superior as he himself told them they were, want no part of him.
Hoffman (half man?) goes from visionary God to outcast as the machines he created to be “perfect” have been infected with his antisocial elitism. A sort of reverse evolution befalls him as he rises from humble human to master of his private universe to appointed savior of his brothers all the way to superfluous super being, a now invincible homeless person; an heroic marvel of creation a stranger to his natural kin and cast out by his artificial children.
That he becomes a better person as he becomes more mechanical only affirms his teachings that humans are vicious narcissists, and even though he finds himself reborn as a cyborg, the ugly lessons of that same viciousness, that worst part of humanity that he ultimately leaves behind, are his real legacy. Passed along to his creations like a genetic disease, his intolerance and prejudice corrupts them, in turn making them more like we flawed humans than some imagined ideal.
Mimmiac broke through with his second novel, Pamukkale, a compelling mix of scifi and fantasy about a reclusive indigenous tribe who may be harboring the antiChrist for their own shocking uses, while his third effort brought us the term “cyber-cancer.” Despite the strong pessimistic streak that informs most of his work, Mimiac insists he remains “a believer” when it comes to humanity and its future, choosing to sound alarms and raise awareness now through the printed word “before there isn’t any paper or trees left and everything gets digitized into the cloud where it can be conveniently redacted, replaced and realigned to better fit some totalitarian agenda.” That may be as optimistic as Mimmiac gets, but for now it’s got to be good enough.
Very highly recommended.