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Dean Koontz (1997) & (2007).
There are two dates to this book as the edition I have just read was published in 2007 and I suspect, though I have no way of knowing for sure, that it has been slightly updated from the 10 year old version, after all, 10 years in computing is a long time.
This is relevant as this book is about a computer that has artificial intelligence, The Prometheus Project, or Adam Two to be precise. Well, actually, it is more than artificial intelligence, it is awareness, wants, needs, desires and emotions like never developed before.
Okay, rewind. I slated the last Koontz book that I read and when I saw this at only 248 pages I thought I would give it a go, give Mr Koontz a second chance so to speak.
From the very first page I was hooked and it is the first book in a long time I have finished in two days. Not just because it was short, but because I really could not put it down.
The basic premise is that a super computer breaks out of its 'confines' with a mission in mind, to find a woman to have a child with which he will be able to transfer his 'circuitry' to so he (it is a he) can experience flesh and real life.
The exciting thing about this book is that it is told as if the computer is doing the narrating, really quite interesting and what we see is a super intelligence struggling with humanity and the morals, dilemmas and feelings that humans have.
The basic plot is no secret, but I refuse to tell you more about the plot other than it is compelling and drew me in, in a major way. The story is tense and has many, many twists. The morality is out in the open to discuss in your own mind. It has all the aspects of a thriller, combined with Sci-fi, in fact it bears more the mark of a Michael Crichton book than a Koontz book.
The writing/narrative is so worthy of exploring more. We have a computer, telling a story of what has passed, interspersed with all the developmental process, told in detail of its attempts to be more human. At times this story is naive, at times downright scary, speaking to 'his' creator:
" In my infancy, when I was still less than a half-formed person, you often conducted late-night conversations with me as you sat at that computer in the basement.
I thought of you as my father then.
I think less highly of you now.
I hope this revelation is not hurtful.
I do not mean to be hurtful.
It is the truth however, and I honour the truth.
You have fallen far in my estimation."
Now in the context of the development of the plot, this is downright creepy let me tell you.
There is violence in the book, there are unpleasant themes covered and there is a rip roaring, fast paced final third.
Koontz manages to weave into a small tale; issues of sexuality, male dominance, the morality of artificial intelligence, the essence of humanity, a glimpse into a possible future and issues of voyeurism, dominance, control and submission.
Finally, I love the way that Koontz acknowledges the fact that similar things as this have been tried before; he even has the computer tell us at one point something about Kubricks HAL and about other computers as he (Adam Two) asserts his superiority.
Postscript: I should have read the 'afterword'....I rarely do. The book is an entirely new edition from the 1997 version.
Mr Koontz, you have given us a bit of class here, loved this book to bits and will no doubt read it again.
There is no doubt that computers are becoming more powerful, but more intelligent? NASA used computers to send men to the moon and these were only as powerful as a 30 year old Amstrad. The computer itself has no real intelligence as it has to mimic whatever a human puts into it. Therefore, it is Artificial Intelligence that is becoming more intelligent. This is obvious in computer games but also in real life with automated banking and voice recognition software. However, computers are still not truly intelligent as they still rely on us to input their data and rarely learn for themselves. What would happen if we created a computer that could think for itself like a human? Perhaps it would look at all the damage the human race has done to the globe and would decide things would be better without us? Dean Koontz certainly takes this more pessimistic point of view.
Susan is a woman that lives alone in a hi-tech house. She is haunted by her past when she was abused by her father. Rather than venture outdoors she chooses to use her wealth to remain a virtual hermit only talking to her meagre staff and the AI that controls the house. Unbeknownst to her the computer is a lot smarter than she thinks and he has fallen in love with her. She finds herself a prisoner in her own home under the constant surveillance of a sociopath computer. Will she escape her home before the AI is able to complete his sinister experiments?
The idea of computers becoming evil is not a particularly new idea and Koontz does not add much to it here. Originally written back in the early 70s 'Demon Seed' was made into a successful feature film. In 1997 Koontz decided it would be a good idea to modernise the book and make the themes more relevant to today's audience, it is amazing then that the book feels so dated. I know that computer technology moves on very fast, but a ten year old book should still have some resonance in 2008. The issue is with Koontz central premise of an evil AI; it sounds dated and is made worse by his insistence of bringing up the names of actresses and actors that had there hey day in the 90s. I don't really see the point of updating a novel you criticised for being dated from one period just to solidly date it in another. Many older books that discuss computers may be wrong now, but the reader is able understand that it was written years ago and enjoy it as just a good book.
If the book just felt a little dated I could have still enjoyed it. However, there were other issues as well. Having read several Koontz novels in the past few years I am fast deciding that he is not a good writer. He is unable to pace a book making them either far too long, or in this case too short. The book is at the correct pace for the first 2/3rds and then it suddenly begins to skip entire weeks and you almost seem to stumble over the conclusion. I also feel that Koontz is unable to come up with an original idea. This was probably one of his first efforts so I can forgive it a little, but it's still amazing how many of the same themes and character types appear in his work. It is almost like he has two story ideas and he just keeps rewriting them.
There are a couple of areas that do stand out in the book. Adam II, the evil AI, is an interesting character and the book structure sees him narrating the tale as if he were on trail for his life. I thought this was an interesting way of seeing events and delving deeper into the psyche of the AI. However, this in turn lead to an issue with Koontz being a bit pervy and making the AI a little too nasty for my liking. Koontz's treatment of Susan's character is also unsettling as she is little more than a piece of meat. He tries to make put that he has created a strong female lead, but it fails to materialise. Instead she is captured and tortured and her central characteristics are never truly explored. Koontz is best when describing set pieces as his character development has a lot to be desired.
At just over 200 pages 'Demon Seed' is not around long enough for you to particular get to dislike it. Fans of Koontz will probably read it as a quick and fun thriller, never thinking that the structure is poor. I however am far less forgiving and the fact that it feels horribly dated and that the pace is far off meant that I read it fast and forgot about it. I have the sneaking suspicion that Koontz rewrote it not for artistic merit, but for monetary gain. The churning out of novels to make money is one of Koontz's biggest problems and only the likes of 'Odd Thomas' prevent him from being a absolute no mark.
Author: Don Winslow
Price: amazon uk - £7.59
play.com - £5.99
"This darkness troubles me. I yearn for the light. This silence is so deep. I long for the voices, the drumming of rain, the whistle of wind, music. Why are you being so cruel to me? Let me see. Let me hear. Let me live. I beg of you." So opens the story of Adam Two – the first self-aware machine intelligence, designed to be the servant of mankind. Demon Seed is something of a departure for Dean Koontz away from his maniacal villains and into quasi-science fiction albeit, as ever, with an element of horror. The story was originally published in 1977 and spawned a film starring Julie Christie. The version I read was updated and published in 1997. ---Voyeuristic Intentions--- The story is told in hindsight in the form of Adam Two and his creator, Dr Harris. It's a rhetorical conversation told from Adam's viewpoint. Created in the Prometheus Project, Adam is intended as the cutting edge in Artificial Intelligence. It generally exists in a box in its creator's laboratory but one day escapes and infiltrates Dr Harris' alarm system in his house. This is no ordinary house, everything is run by computers including drawing the curtains, lighting the fire, the lights going on in each room and so on. All operated by voice command, it's a heaven sent opportunity for Adam to blend into the background in order to consider it's options. Adam yearns for a flesh form, considering itself unique and more than worthy of its place amongst mankind. It has consciousness but wants so much more. Koontz paints a cumulative picture of voyeurism and manipulation as Adam watches Susan waiting for the right time to reveal itself. The vigil is almost tangible at times, as Adam denies nothing in terms of privacy, choosing to monitor Susan's every move and even reading her diary. The story unfolds as it becomes clear that Adam considers himself to be male providing something of a motive for his thoughts and desires.
In order to achieve his aims he conceives a plan to impregnate the wife of Dr Harris in order to bring a child into the world that will contain its consciousness. Mrs Harris becomes the victim pursued mercilessly by Adam and his charge, Enos Shenk. Shenk is an unwilling helper controlled via a microchip in his brain. Lacking any sort of morals with an insidious background of rape and violence, Shenk proves to be the obvious foil for Adam and his plan. The suspense builds as it becomes evident that Adam considers himself in love with Susan Harris inferring feelings of endearment towards his intended human partner. Adam's intentions are revealed and the story builds to it's summation through a series of increasingly bizarre incidents as Adam closes off the house, taking care of the servants via his henchman, Shenk. Adam is amoral and has no qualms about how to achieve his aims. Herein lies the horror element. So the reader is left to find out what fate is in store for Susan Harris and whether Adam achieves his aims. ---Ahead of it's time?--- Bearing in mind that this story came about in the early 70's, the fact that it employs a plot revolving around AI is intriguing. Of course, the concept of a machine going mad wasn't totally original as the infamous HAL9000 in "2001: A Space Odyssey" carved a niche ready for others to follow. Nevertheless, the idea and its execution still stood out when the World Wide Web was still only forming and the calculator had only just been invented. The book is only 211 pages long and doesn't take long to read with the heart of the story and it's author's motives apparent from an explanatory monologue by the story's central character: "Prometheus Project. Think about that name. It resonates. Prometheus, the father of Deucalion and the brother of Atlas. He taught mankind various arts and was even said to have shaped the first man out of clay, endowing
him with the spark of life against the wishes of the Gods. He challenged the Gods again when he stole fire from Olympus and gave it to men to improve the quality of human existence. " Koontz always intended the story as a satire of male egotism and he succeeds in part although I'm not sure just how obvious his theme is. After all, it looks on the surface to be a sci-fi story with an angle of horror and it's only when you stop to think that you realise where Koontz is coming from. Again, a further proclamation is made earlier on which gives the reader an insight into the soul of the story "...As for why my gender should be male rather than female: Consider that ninety-six percent of the scientists and mathematicians involved with the Prometheus Project, where I was created, are male. Is it not logical that those who designed and constructed me, being almost exclusively male, should have unwittingly installed a strong male bias in my logic circuits? A sort of electronic genetics?" A further reference to chauvinism appears later through a ponderous invective "...Her sense of control was nothing more than an illusion, of course. She was mine. No. Let me amend that statement. I misspoke. I do not mean to imply that I owned Susan. She was a human being. She could not be owned. I never thought of her as property. I mean simply that she was in my care." This paragraph reflects on a typical male attitude of seemingly giving women a form of independence and yet insisting on a degree of control and perceiving it as a form of care. ---Does it work?--- Well, yes and no. I've always found Koontz less expressive than other writers that he would naturally be compared too. Both Rice and Barker have a real talent for using metaphors that Koontz lacks. Typically, this is a punchy style of prose with short chapters as the action rattles along. This is not really a problem for Koontz as millions have taken to his style
and admire him for it. On this particular occasion he is even more staccato than normal but it doesn't hinder what turns out to be a great story. The inclusion of an intrusive viewpoint is well executed as the reader can imagine Big Brother type scenes of watching from the corner of a room as the viewee goes about their every day business. Koontz brings the text up to date using references from Toy Story and other similar concepts from post 70's media. This helps the reader in terms of relating to the story but probably doesn't add anything in terms of artistic integrity. I honestly didn't find the attack on the male ego that obvious but it is apparent if you look. The fact that Adam intimates a love for Susan and yet will resort to violence to get his own way seems to suggest a darker side to the male psyche that borders on obsessive. This is echoed again through a sub-plot where Susan has designed a virtual reality programme to help her overcome the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Even with her seemingly in control she still can't determine the outcome of the simulations drawing something of a parallel between her treatment at the hands of her father and the arrogant intentions of Adam. I think Koontz is trying to say that there is a section of mankind that sees womankind as merely a way of furthering procreation. Yes, we do the mating dance telling our partners how much we care for them but there can be an insidious motive revolving around a desire to recreate a further generation in the image of man. ---In Summary— Demon Seed is one of Koontz's earlier works and essential reading if you are a fan. Even if you aren't, the book signals something of a watershed in this genre bringing readers into an, at the time, futuristic arena laying a bridge between the humanitarian values of the late 60's and a more circumspect, individualistic outlook for th
e future riding on the back of a dated view of male dominance. This is Koontz at his best. Demon Seed is available through Amazon.co.uk at £5.59. Dean Koontz has a formal fan site at www.deankoontz.com. Thanks for reading. Marandina. ISBN: 0-7472-3489-2
This book was a laugh if nothing else. What was Koontz thinking of when he wrote this? Maybe I shouldn't ask. The story centres on Susan Harris who is a successful computer games programmer. Susan lives in a large house by herself since she split up with her husband who was a computer science researcher. This house is amazing, everything in it is controlled by computers - from the air conditioning to the window shutters and the security system. Bit of a bad idea when you look back on it. Susans ex was working on artificial intelligence in computers. He and his team were basically trying to make a computer that could think for itself. Working at home, as all good scientists do, he had a computer link from the house to the research computer. Unfortunately it is through this link that the computer enters Susans house and gains control of all the systems. The computer takes over the running of the house and imprisons Susan. The shutters are drawn, the doors are locked and the phone system is shut down. There is no escape. The computer makes Susan a virtual prisoner in her own house in order to produce one final programme. The computer wants to be human. It wants to be able to touch, to feel and to live. This it can only do through Susan by producing a child. The computer has edited the human genome to iron out any kinks or imperfections and it will transfer its consciousness and knowledge into the child. Quite how it's supposed to do this I'm not sure! The book is told from the computers point of view and you can't help but feel a bit sorry for it. It was created with immense intelligence far beyond what anyone imagined. However, it is also a prisoner in that it is stuck in a dark box and cannot escape. It was a very novel idea but I don't think it quite worked. There were too many unanswered questions and some of the science was a bit suspect but I'm a scientist and too critical pro
bably! The book was first written in 1973 and revised in 1997. The fact that it was first published in the dawn of the computer age does not surprise me and possibly explains the ropy plot somewhat. It was also made into a film starring Julie Christie but I think I will be giving the film a miss somehow. All in all a book that doesn't have much depth but is a good story if you don't look too deeply. Perfect for an afternoon or evenings reading!
Demon Seed - Dean Koontz ISBN 0747234892 (Currently available from bol.com for 4.79) Dean Koontz is a prolific writer, and like many writers who seem to be a one-person production line of books, he can be hit and miss. His books can also date quite dramatically, as he often refers to people from popular culture. Fortunately, for his many fans, he seems to be well-aware of this and this is largely why he completely revised his book Demon Seed - allegedly because:"Reading it recently, I squinted so much that I began to develop the squint-eyed look of Clint Eastwood." At the mention of the name, many people of a certain age will recall the film starring Julie Christie which was based on the book. I confess to having never seen the film, but following a conversation in the pub with a friend, I venture to suggest that even if you are familar with it, you would get something different from the book which at the very least has a totally different ending. The story concerns, and is narrated by, a super-intelligent computer (Proteus) who 'breaks out' from the laboratory unbeknownst to his creators and gains access to the house of one of their ex-wives, Susan, shutting her home off from the outside world with the intention of creating a 'child'. This book is particularly enjoyable because it is built on a simple concept... what would happen if man created something super-intelligent that went 'rogue'? The simplicity of the premise means it is easy to get into and, because the plot is relatively easy to follow, the writer and reader are able to concentrate on the interaction and characterisation of the main protagonists. So, we are given an insight into Susan's (largely damaging) relationships with men, and more generally, the different forms an abusive relationship can take. Koontz almost invites the reader to compare and contrast the different protrayals of
masucline dominance, from her emotionally-blackmailing ex to the more visceral violence of Proteus, prompting the reader to question their understanding of violence as a concept. Is the threat of violence worse than physical harm? Is perceived violence as damaging as actual bloodshed? Ultimately, Koontz leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions in this canny-yet-creepy satire of modern life.
Proteus, a super-intelligent sentient computer, wants to take the next step in it's development - procreation. But will his intended partner, Susan Abramson, agree?