on June 30, 2016 :
Random Chance and the Paradise that is Earth is a difficult book to describe. In many ways, it feels like a snippet, a slice of life—one of a myriad adventures of the eponymous main character. And that’s a good thing. Much like a TV pilot, this book drops you into the middle of Random’s life. It makes you curious about his past and anxious about his future, and you find yourself eager for the next episode in his unfolding story.
There are two “halves” to this story. The first part follows Random as he makes a narrow escape from the ruthless Oligarchy that holds dominion over the solar system. The second part follows his visit to Vesta where he meets up with Mia (Random has girls in many ports, but this one is special) and acquaints her with his best friends—who are both AI programs.
Without giving a lot away, there is something for everyone here. Suspense, politics, more than a dash of romance, and plenty of fun and philosophy. Vesta is an intriguing, beautiful and unusual place. Reading about it, you find yourself wishing you could explore it further, or visit it yourself—and you immediately find yourself trying to envision the rest of Random’s universe—all those worlds just waiting for you to discover them. And because Random’s solar system is so delightful, you end up all the more caught up in his story, which at times is a desperate, frightening struggle for survival. That such a fascinating world is subject to tyranny fills you with outrage.
From a philosophical perspective, this story delves into the nature of intelligence—and moreover, different kinds of intelligence. It asks a lot of questions: Are human beings really fundamentally “good?” Is intelligence our greatest survival trait, or is compassion? Does intelligence necessarily refer to computational abilities, or could it encompass a broader definition? Where does consciousness come from—and what about conscience? We typically define “intelligence” in AI as the ability to learn and decide. Is that ability fundamentally linked to the development of a moral compass (or vice versa)? If so, when in their lifetimes do human beings truly acquire intelligence—and how?
One great thing about this book is that it asks the questions but it doesn’t hit you over the head with firm answers. Instead, it presents you with a vision of the future—a set of possibilities—to use as a lens to think about complex topics.
In short, it’s great sci-fi. The emphasis is on “if.”
And there is so much “if” left to explore. I can’t wait for Random’s next adventure, and a chance to explore more of his universe—and delve deeper into the many questions his first adventure raises!
(reviewed 17 days after purchase)