Willful Machines, by Tim Floreen
Publisher: Simon Pulse (October 20, 2015)
Page Count: 368 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Sci Fi; Gay Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you very much to the folks at Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel!
I was in a panel at Comic Con back in July when I first heard about this book. An LGBT young adult romance about AIs, robots, and what it means to be human? I still have a huge note in my journal from that panel, with stars and exclamation points surrounding it: BUY THIS BOOK IN OCTOBER!
In the near future, scientists create what may be a new form of life: an artificial human named Charlotte. All goes well until Charlotte escapes, transfers her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public.
Charlotte’s attacks have everyone on high alert—everyone except Lee Fisher, the closeted son of the US president. Lee has other things to worry about, like keeping his Secret Service detail from finding out about his crush on Nico, the eccentric, Shakespeare-obsessed new boy at school. And keeping Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt. And keeping himself from freaking out about all his secrets.
But when the attacks start happening at his school, Lee realizes he’s Charlotte’s next target. Even worse, Nico may be part of Charlotte’s plan too.
As Lee races to save himself, uncover Charlotte’s plan, and figure out if he can trust Nico, he comes to a whole new understanding of what it means to be alive … and what makes life worth living.
I’ve never seen any of the Terminator movies (I know, shame on me!), but I know the idea of an AI taking over and rebelling against its creator is a theme that’s been around for a long time. What’s unique here is that Charlotte isn’t turning on her creators; she just wants to be free, and for her fellow AIs to be freed as well.
In the midst of all this is Lee. He’s completely average… he doesn’t get good grades, he has no friends, he’s not especially good-looking, and he prefers his robot creatures to the company of his classmates. But he’s the son of the very popular, very-conservative President, which means there are a lot of expectations for him. And Lee doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, but he’s pretty sure he can’t be the man his father and grandfather want him to be, either.
“Relax, Walk-In. Nobody heard me.”
That was Bex’s name for me: the Walking Walk-In– a semiaffectionate allusion to my closetedness.
But hands-down the best part of this novel was Nico. He was brilliantly written and delightfully complex. He’s everything that Lee is not (brave, smart, handsome), but he’s also this great flawed character who refuses to be ashamed of who he is (gay, too-loud, and a Shakespeare geek).
Lee is the eyes through which we see this world, but Nico is most definitely the shining star of the show!
I won’t go into the plot too much, because doing so would totally spoil things, but this novel felt so much shorter because I was so absorbed in the narrative! I couldn’t put it down!! Over and over I kept thinking, “Oh, I bet I know what’s going to happen next”…. but I was consistently wrong! I love a novel that flows seamlessly and has a well-paced, unpredictable plot!
Like I said before, the “evil AI rises up” plot has been done before. What makes this story great are the characters and the decisions that they have to make. This isn’t a story about trying to save the world, it’s about understanding what humanity is, and what defines free will vs. fate. (And, of course, it’s also about love.)
A really fantastic novel from Tim Floreen, and one that I’m seriously so excited about! Will there be a sequel? More in this universe? I hope so!
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