(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 20, 2004)
It sounds completely tempting...for $25,000 dollars, you can become a member of Eden, the world’s most successful matchmaking service. After a comprehensive battery of tests, your profile is added into the data banks of the most advanced AI computer ever created, and compared to the profiles of all the other members. A match is chosen, someone who is at least 95% compatible to you, the closest thing to a soul mate you’ll ever find -- especially considering that the Eden average compatibility statistic for most married couples is merely 35%. And a few blessed couples -- 6 altogether - have been matched with 100% compatibility. The people at Eden are incredibly proud of these 6 couples, calling them Super Couples.
Someone must not be too thrilled with them, however, as one, then another, are found dead, double suicides. Christopher Lash is now a psychiatrist in private practice, but once he as a forensic profiler for the FBI. Edwin Mauchly has hired him to discover why the first couple (the second couple doesn’t die for a few chapters) would kill themselves. Lash delves deep into their lives and finds nothing...nothing even close to a suicidal tendency, everything was going fabulous for them with their careers and family. Their devotion to each other was obvious to all, they had a new baby and a beautiful house..so why would they asphyxiate themselves in front of their little girl?
As in Child’s last book, Utopia, he takes a highly desirable concept that has got to be too perfect to be true, and breaks it open to show the flaw in the core. He uses fascinating technology. Richard Silver, the founder of Eden, has created the ultimate supercomputer in Eliza, and the whole process, as it is explained little by little, is both fascinating and perfectly reasonable. Such computer advances in AI seem astonishing. One of the things I liked is when Silver and Lash are discussing Liza. Lash asks if she’s self aware, a core piece of what we consider the heart of AI or any intelligent life:
“But she is self-aware. So what, exactly, is she aware of? She knows she’s a computer, that she’s different, right?” [Lash asks]
Silver shook his head. “I never added any module of code to that effect.”
“What?” Lash said in surprise.
“Why should she think she’s any different from the rest of us?”
“I just assumed --”
“Does a child, no matter how precocious, ever doubt the reality of its existence? Do you?”
Thoughts like this make an attractive point about what defines AI, and what we consider it’s own thoughts on the matter... we assume that it is aware of it’s machiness, but perhaps not.
There’s also some interesting ideas about mating. The couples, before they meet (and perhaps it is worth mentioning that you only get one crack at this...they match you, they pull you out of the tank...if you mess this contact up, which should be impossible since they are 95% perfect for you....you’ve wasted your money) are warned that the person they meet will probably not match what they imagined, but to give it time. This makes sense in that, it's natural for us to (well certainly for me) build up such a composite in one's head of what the right person should look like and be like that it would be hard to discard that for the reality. Another thing I thought interesting was that people are attracted to people who smell different from them...but in so many other matters, people seem attracted to someone who has a lot of similarities. The fact that Liza’s voice is a feminized copy of Richard’s own points to the idea that we are comforted, and therefore attracted, by someone who sounds or looks like us. There was a theory going around (made fun of by talk show hosts who doctored up pictures of celebrities to illustrate the point) that people are most attracted to people with similar facial features.
Throughout this book we also revisit Lash’s past...the reason why he ended up quitting the FBI, the reasons why his wife left him, are all things that get dragged to the surface as he deals with this utopia of perfect love (there’s not been one dissatisfied customer over the thousands of couples they’ve introduced) and revisits his FBI techniques. This forces him to face things he’d rather have left locked away in his mind.
The whole book is extremely compelling, not just for the unusual plot line idea, but for the fact that, like Lash, we can’t help but worry over the deaths. They don’t make sense, there’s no motive, no evidence of foul play, nothing that makes the slightest bit of sense. As Lash searches for clues, once in a great while we meet a third couple, the couple we know must be next...and see ominous signs for their future. When everything comes together it’s a surprise and you have to admire how neatly everything has been brought together.
- Amazon readers rating: from 102 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Death Match at Randomhouse.com(back to top)
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 20, 2003)"The carriage canted still farther as it picked up speed. Then there was a jarring wrench and one of the occupants tumbled forward. His small hands scrambled frantically, but the G-forces were too strong; the hand slipped past the safety bar, past the adult hands that reached desperately for it, and as the rider cart wheeled toward the camera, hurtling down with appalling speed, Presley had just enough time to make out the Jack the Ripper tee shirt before the impact killed the visual feed."
It's the sort of immersive fun park that any one would be thrilled to visit. Made up of four different "worlds" (five, if you count the soon to be opened Atlantis) Utopia is just the type of place to demonstrate Andrew Warne's theories on robotic learning behavior. Originally hired to build the Metanet that connects the robots to a computer network to control their behavior, Warne is thrilled with the prospects he thinks he's been invited to Utopia to discuss. Witnessing the incredible robotics he helped develop, from the dragons of Camelot to the servitor bots at the Sci-Fi themed Callisto, he sees how his work has made the park better. Unfortunately, the owners don't feel the same way...there have been a series of strange accidents, and the Metanet seems to be the blame. He's to take it apart; and despite assurances to the contrary, he knows once it's down, it's gone. Soon this will be the least of his concerns. A group of terrorists, lead by the suave John Doe, have taken over the park. The deal: give them a copy of Crucible, the holographic technology that is the backbone of the park's incredible realism, and none of the thousands of visitors will know that his team was there. Fail to give them the disk, attempt to evacuate the patrons, and chaos would ensue.
The main star of this book is truly the park. When I opened up the book and saw the map, I was reminded of Larry Niven's Dream Park, or maybe WestWorld, and had visions of a grim Yule Brenner roving through the pages in his signature black cowboy outfit. Of course, it is nothing of the kind. The park is made up, as I said earlier, of Camelot, Callisto, the Victorian with a touch of Jack The Ripper Gaslight, and the Coney Island themed Boardwalk. Child must have had a wonderful time writing about this...the inventive rides, the colorful scenes that are orchestrated carefully to make the visitor feel as if they are actually in that time and place, even the small details of running the park all have an element of magic to them. It's the fact that he draws this place so vividly that really makes the story come to life. Even the most serious of us can imagine enjoying a visit to Poor Richard's, where they serve medieval cuisine, or strolling along the foggy streets of Gaslight. He makes these worlds even more round by giving us all perspectives. We sit in the heads of the visitors, of the actors, of the management, and see this way of life through their eyes. The technology, also, is impressive. The park is constructed to be the ultimate magical illusion, which is apt since the original creator was a magician.
Because of the ideality of the park, and because a park like this is the one place you check your instincts at the door and throw yourself into the idea of having a good time, it makes John Doe's plans all the more chilling. For most of the book, no one knows what's going on except for a select few. Any time a person goes on a roller coaster, enters into the pitch dark of a ride, their innocent belief in the system -- while you know there's a large possibility that you've just been introduced to some people who are about to die -- increases the tension.
Warne and Doe make an unlikely pair of opponents. Doe is cold and charismatic, Warne a highly computer intelligent single dad. In some ways, they are unequal, because there is a great deal of leverage that Doe can use against Warne, and he has the advantage of knowing exactly what his plans are while Warne has to rely on tracking the computer changes. This inequity is why it's so wise that Child takes the tact of adding Angus Poole to the list of allies. Angus, unlike Warne, has military training, and understands explosives and defense. Together, the two men cover each other's weaknesses, and make a surprisingly formidable team.
There are several scenes that are typical, that spring up from this type of plot. Child rarely takes the obvious approach, creating a suspense novel with a genuine feeling of freshness. For example, he seems to keep the death count within reason. In one scene, he builds up this relationship between the reader and a cast member on his last day. Everyone expects that cast member to die, it's a common thing that any nonessential charcaters that are introduced in this sort of sceneario die. He doesn't...and this creates a bit of doubt in our heads. If this guy escaped death at the hands of the author, will the other people we meet? It changes our expectations, making, as I said, the approach seem freasher.
There is another side effect: when you're done, you don't want to leave Utopia, despite the horrors that you've just read. In fact, you sincerely wish you could go to it, rides the rides, buy the overly expensive tee shirts. But at seventy-five bucks a pop, maybe it's just as well. The book is far more economical, and you don't have to worry about getting there.
- Amazon readers rating: from 61 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Utopia at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Utopia (December 2002)
- Death Match (May 2004)
- Deep Storm (January 2007)
- Terminal Freeze (February 2009)
FBI special agent Agent Pendegrast:
- Relic (1995)
- Reliquary (1997)
- The Cabinet of Curiosities (2002)
- Still Life with Crows (2003)
- Brimstone (2004)
- Dance of Death (2005)
- The Book of the Dead (2006)
- The Wheel of Darkness (2007)
- Cemetary Dance (2009)
- Fever Dream (2010)
- Cold Vengeance (August 2011)
Movies from books:
- The Relic (1997)
(back to top)
- MostlyFiction.com's page for Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child novels
- BookReporter.com review of Utopia
- BookLoons review of Death Match
- MostlyFiction.com review of Cemetary Dance
(back to top)
About the Author:
Lincoln Child was born in Westport, Connecticut in 1957, but spent some of his childhood in Abersystwyth, Wales. In 1979, after graduating from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he majored in English, he secured a position as editorial assistant at St. Martin's Press in New York City. While at St. Martin's he worked his way up the hierarchy to become a full editor in 1984. He also assembled several collections of ghost and horror stories --- Dark Company (1984), Dark Banquet (1985) --- and later founded the company's mass-market horror division and edited three more collections (Tales of the Dark 1-3).
In 1987, Lincoln left trade publishing to work at MetLife. In a rather sudden transition, he went from editing manuscripts, speaking at sales conferences, and wining/dining agents to doing highly technical programming and systems analysis. Though the switch might seem bizarre, Lincoln was a propeller-head from a very early age, and his extensive programming experience dates back to high school, when he worked with DEC minis and the now-prehistoric IBM 1620, so antique it actually had an electric typewriter mounted into its front panel. Away from the world of publishing, Lincoln's own nascent interests in writing returned. While at MetLife, Relic was published, and within a few years Lincoln left the company to write full time. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.