The 1980s look a bit different in Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me. The Beatles are back together, Argentina has won the Falklands War, Britain is in chaos, and most importantly to the story at hand, famed mathematician Alan Turing is still alive. In this reality, Turing has made leaps and bounds within the world of artificial intelligence, leading to the creation of synthetic humans — 25 to be exact, 12 Adams and 13 Eves. Upon receiving a considerable inheritance in the wake of his mother’s death, Charlie Friend — a generally listless man, unable to hold a job and deeply infatuated with his bright, young upstairs neighbor Miranda — makes the decision to purchase an artificial human for himself. And so Adam enters McEwan’s tale, bringing unexpected complications to Charlie’s life and his relationship with Miranda. Yet the story is less reliant on a love triangle and instead is more about the grey area of what makes us human, and how that uncertainty impacts our understanding of morality, justice, and our interactions with those around us.
While the essence of the story might have been simplified had McEwan chosen to set Machines Like Me in the not-too-distant future, his commitment to telling an alternate history of the 1980s in which Turing lived feels fresh and surprising. Moreover, the book’s exploration of the fine line between machine and mortal is not exactly a novel concept in modern media (I.e. Westworld or Ex Machina) and at times it is unclear if the McEwan’s somewhat incomplete characterization of Miranda is a side effect of Charlie’s distinctly masculine subjectivity or the author’s own biases. Yet McEwan’s undeniable talent for world-building and crafting inventive, compulsively readable prose makes for a genuinely thought-provoking exploration of human nature that challenges expectations of its genre. –Jillian Karande
Get it from Amazon for $17.67, Barnes & Noble for $18.87, or a local bookseller through Indiebound here.