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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Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (2010)

May 16, 2011 at 9:04 am (fantasy, historical fantasy, juvenile)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the juvenile and young adult shelves contain some good, fun fiction that isn’t the classics you remember (and may re-read from time to time).

The adventures of Theodosia Throckmorton are one of these.  Being the eleven-year-old daughter of obsessed early 20th-century British Egyptologists, Theo reads hieroglyphics almost as easily as English, and probably knows more about the ancient Pharoahs than about the British monarchy.

Her ability to perceive Egyptian curses seems to be an inborn ability, however.  But in a pleasing nod to practicality, being able to perceive the curses isn’t the same as being able to remove them – that takes research and experimentation.  And she’s done quite a lot of that; some of her discoveries surprise the older and more experienced men she runs into in the series.

This volume is the third of the series (the fourth, The Last Pharaoh, just came out this April).  Without going into spoilerish detail, Theodosia’s parents run (and practically live in) the Museum of Legends and Antiquities, and having managed to avoid being sent to boarding school, Theo also spends most of her time there.  The series involves three conflicting groups interested in the ancient Egyptian artifacts and magic that Theo knows perhaps too much about: the Order of the Black Sun (a cult), the Serpents of Chaos (another cult!), and the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers (a secret government agency that deals with magical problems).

So.  Some of the artifacts that are in the museum are very powerful, and these groups want to get their hands on them.  Theo, with help from friends and occasionally the Brotherhood, has to figure out how to thwart them.  The magic is real – there’s a statue of Anubis that occasionally animates, and the plague of ambulatory mummies, and of course the wide variety of curses.

The stories feature actual Egyptian history and culture, as well as that of Edwardian London (crushing poverty, limited non-marriage opportunities for women and all).  They’re good clean fun, Theo is a clever but not perfect hero who sometimes gets in over her head, and I’m hoping my public library adds the fourth book to its collection so I can read it.

See also http://www.theodosiathrockmorton.com/ (where you can get a look at the Gorey-esque cover art, too).

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