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The Destructives by Matthew De Abaitua

Published by Angry Robot on March 1, 2016

The Destructives is one of the better novels I’ve seen from Angry Robot. The story is set against a detailed background that blends creative imagination with intelligent prediction to arrive at a credible future. From designer drugs to shopping malls that double as asylums, from obsessive data tracking to floating offshore habitats for the wealthy, the future depicted here is a credible offshoot of current trends.

The story involves emergences, self-aware beings that emerged from computer technology. They consider themselves to be natural, rather than artificial, intelligences, although they debate whether they are a product of evolution or technology. Things were very bad for humans during a period called the Seizure that followed the emergences’ entry into human society. To avoid further difficulties, humans and emergences agreed not to collaborate. The emergences took up residence in colonies that closely orbit the sun. The emergence known as Dr Easy, however, has undertaken a research mission on Earth. His research requires him to make a recording of Theodore Drown’s life, the better to understand -- and keep an eye on -- humanity.

Theodore specializes in pre-Seizure restoration. He is summoned to the dark side of the moon, working on a project that has recreated a home as it existed in 2020, shortly before the Seizure. There he studies a quantified family -- a family that recorded its daily environment in holographic detail, charting activities and health and moods (because really, you don’t know whether you’re happy or sad until your computer confirms your emotions). In 2020, people still considered themselves to be users of technology rather than the other way around.

Since nearly all pre-Seizure data has been erased, Theodore is excited to find a trove of data concerning the quantified family. The project is hidden underground for reasons that gradually become apparent to Theodore. It turns out to represent a vital moment in history.

The plot eventually has Theodore starting a business called the Destructives. The business brings him into contact with people who are pursuing goals that appear to be contrary to the interests of the emergences and, for that matter, most humans. Meanwhile, the Destructives undertakes its own project, one that again might be contrary to the wishes of the emergences. Eventually the story moves to one of Jupiter’s moons and its surprising inhabitants.

There is quite a bit of cultural commentary in The Destructives, the commentary coming from the perspective of observers who are studying culture after its destruction. One of my favorite thoughts refers to the ease with which people, without sensing the irony, use mass-produced products to express their individuality. The commentary alone makes the novel worth reading.

The story becomes needlessly murky and meandering after the action moves to Europa, although it continues to score imagination points. The ending, on the other hand, circles around in a surprising way to tie the novel together. While I liked the novel’s first half more than the second, the book as a whole is considerably more thought-provoking than typical Angry Robot fare.


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