Eager by Helen Fox (2004)

July 17, 2011 at 9:14 am (juvenile, science fiction)

My son insisted that I read this Juvenile-level science fiction novel; he thought it was very interesting.  And I agree.  It’s not often you find a novel of any description that manages to weave in questions about free will, the definition of “life,” corporate morality, and humans’ relationships to non-human things.

Technically, the book is about robots.  At some undefined point in the future, petroleum stocks have been depleted to almost nothing and society has divided up into the technocrat class (scientists), professional class (people with actual work of some kind), and everybody else – unskilled work is done by robots, so apparently most people are unemployed and living on the dole.  (The setting appears to be England.)

As the story opens, LifeCorp has just released its new-model robot, the BDC4, and the Bell family can’t afford to buy one to replace their damaged old butler robot, known as Grumps. Nor are they sure that they want to replace him, as he has a lot of sentimental value.  But an acquaintance of Mr. Bell, who is an independent scientist, has just developed a new-model robot of his own, and Mr. Bell agrees to bring the EGR3 home, where he’s soon dubbed “Eager.”

Eager is unique, because his “programming” is all based on (virtual) experience, much like a human being’s.  He learns like a human and also has genuine feelings, too.  Part of the story is about his attempts to learn what he needs to know and his questions about what it means to be a robot with such human characteristics.  The other part is about the peculiarities of the BDC4s, which Gavin Bell and his teenaged sister Fleur notice fairly quickly, and try to investigate.

The two plots interweave, at least in part.  I’m not sure they really work together perfectly, but it’s an interesting set of concepts and the book fueled several conversations about government and philosophy (and SF tropes!) with my son.

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