“Machines Like Me” – Ian McEwan (3/5 ★)

This is the first book I have read by Ian McEwan & it has definitely sparked my curiosity to discover more books by the author. I really wanted to like this one, since I’m generally a fan of AI & I have also initially given it 4/5 stars, but while going through the review, it just didn’t wrap up to a coherent & satisfying experience and I would rate it as a bit above average, with 3/5 stars. Nevertheless, I had so after reading the book, which is definitely a good sign!!

I was able to flash through the 300 pages of the book within just about 2 days (probably because I wanted to finish it in time for an event with the author), the story having instantly appeared appealing to me. Even though the story was quite simple in itself, the author did manage to build up the suspense, making you want to feverishly read on in order to find out how it ends. It still took me about 60 pages to shake off the prejudice of seeing it to be just some standard romantic kind of story, but it made it up by bringing up intriguing points & examples on the topic of artificial intelligence & the development of robotics. While analysing the entirety of the book closer though, I have noticed that the peak of the story with notable quotations has been reached between the pages 80 and 150 (out of the total of 300). Nothing worth putting deeper thought into appeared before or afterwards, making it rather seem like just 4-5 clever ideas have been thrown into the mass of a rather mediocre story.

If I were to explain why I enjoyed the book, it wouldn’t be because of the story itself, but rather because of topics like the following, that were brought to the table & made you want to dig deeper, get more details on each of the ideas:

Whether a certain “personality” can really be implanted into robotics or whether it’s just a myth such as parents trying to “build” the personalities of their children during their upbringing;
The morality of decisions taken by machines on the example of self driving cars. If an accident were either to kill 1 child running out onto the road or the driver, the 3 other passengers within the car & additional other people within other cars involved in the possible accident, would we be ok with the machine deciding to go ahead with the decision of the least possible amount of deaths?
– Taking on the topic of sexuality, whether human-like robotics would be a threat to the human species, being able to be superior at the act & at satisfying humans? Whether it would count as betrayal if you were to have intercourse with one, because in the end, wouldn’t it just be like going to bed with a vibrator?

What was lacking a bit for me, as mentioned in some other reviews, was the emotional depth. It felt like we stayed a bit on the surface with the characters & the writer didn’t feel the need to dive deeper. This might also have been the case because it was written in the point of view of the protagonist Charlie, who simply didn’t have much of a personality, besides him rambling on how much he’s in love with his neighbour/ future girlfriend Miranda. He could be summed up as some pathetic lost case, being quite boring, without anything in particular standing out about him. Personally he reminded me of some pretentious & unlikable male characters out of Nick Hornby novels.
On top of that, the political topics within the book just weren’t appealing to me, they felt like unnecessary noise strewn every now & then in between the story-line. It rather seemed like the author felt obliged or longing to add in some current day developments linked to the current day Brexit movements in the UK.

To finish off, this might be more interesting to those, who have already read the book, there were a couple of things that put me off & that seemed like inconsistencies of the story or the characters (these aren’t spoilers, so even if you haven’t gotten through the book yet, it won’t spoil the reading experience):

– Why was Adam loyal to Miranda besides his actual “master”, Charlie? How could he have really known that she programmed half his personality? It just didn’t make sense (p. 78);
– When the child was deposited at Charlie’s place, how the hell did they find his address?? It’s just completely improbable (p. 102);
– It’s not evident why Charlie wouldn’t have asked Adam for help earlier on to make money, since his task screams, “a robot would be perfect at it!” (p.142);
– It seems like such an absolute amateur’s mistake for Miranda to reveal her enormous life secret in front of Adam. She’s aware that he’s a machine & he has already acted out behind her back before, going with the “right” thing instead of what she would have preferred. Especially with something she has never told anyone before in her life, she must have been more careful & secretive. Exactly this situation makes the ending too predictive… (p. 153)

All in all, it’s a book that manages to capture your attention & is fairly short to get through, so if you finally don’t end up enjoying it, you won’t have wasted too much time. Just be prepared for some too good to be true scenarios, such as the main characters living within the same house & coincidentally falling in love with each other, or the ending, which speaks against all odds of a competent judiciary system. If you rather see the book as food for future thought, this can be an absolutely stimulating read!

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

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