“Virtual Girl” by Amy Thomson
review © 1993 by P. Douglas Reeder
This novel starts out very tritely. It feels like Thomson is checking off a list: Solitary Genius; Rich, Domineering Father; Escape; Pursuit; Genius Creates Humanoid Robot; Artificial Intelligence Illegal; Flight from Minions of Evil Figure (robot plans lost); Assault; Characters Separated and Presumed Dead; Amnesia; Sheltered by Kindly Stranger…
None of the individual elements are utterly impossible, but Thomson fails to make them believable. I am willing to believe, for the purposes of a story, that a self-learning Artificial Intelligence could be created by a lone worker, in spite of it being illegal. That such an intelligence could learn to use a body in a matter of days is absurd. Humans take years to do so.
The largest problem with the book is that Maggie doesn’t act like a robot; she acts like a human in a tin suit. It is implausible that an entity who came to self-awareness by such a different route than humans would behave so much like them. So many authors have missed this point: robots are not human, they are aliens. It was a long time before aliens in science fiction were depicted as truly alien – I hope we shall not have as long to wait before robots are as well. (A short aside: Asimov’s robots followed the Three Laws of Robotics, making them convincing robots, but they were not fully developed characters. For that matter, Asimov’s humans weren’t fully developed characters, either.)
Much of the action takes place among the homeless. What Thomson does depict is believable, but she is selective – for all the characters’ wandering among the homeless, they never meet any weirdos or drug addicts.
It doesn’t bother me that this story has been done before; the problem is that there is no life, no originality, for all that Thomson uses all the latest buzzwords: Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, expert Computer Hackers. The characters act like characters in a book, not like real people.
%A Amy Thomson %T Virtual Girl %I Ace Books / The Berkely Publishing Group %C New York, NY %D copyright 1993 %G ISBN 0-441-86500-3 %P 248 pp %K SF, robot, homeless %O paperback $4.99