Machines Like Me
Machines Like Me follows Charlie, a 30-something Londoner who upon coming into money, decides to buy Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. The story follows him and his girlfriend, Miranda, as Adam increasingly becomes an integral part of their lives.
This book had lots of promise but I do think I liked the idea of this book more than I actually enjoyed its content. It was set in 1980s Britain, a period in history that is monumental for multiple reasons. It also raises some very important discussions surrounding the ethics behind creating artificial intelligence modelled on our likeness. However, I just couldn’t get on board with this ‘alternative reality’ where Britain loses the Falkland War, Tony Benn becomes Prime Minister and Alan Turing lives long enough to create robots. While I appreciated McEwan’s nods to history, they were used to air his own political views and did absolutely nothing for the world building.
I also found that the book’s research elements were so thorough that it came at a detriment to the plot and its characters. I loved Adam, the self-assured, haiku poet android who falls in love with his maker. My favourite moments in this book were when Adam acts of his own accord and the reader is left in suspense over not knowing what he is going to do next. However, I found Adam’s roommates/owners, Charlie and Miranda, to be really dull. McEwan had clearly conducted a lot of research around scientific history, British history and on the ethics of artificial intelligence, but often this took precedence over his characters who came across like mouthpieces for this research, rather than fully realised human beings (ironic).
Something I also think needs to be discussed is McEwan’s treatment of rape and suicide which I thought was, quite frankly, offensive. The sub plot which delves into Miranda’s past came across like an afterthought and wasn’t given the space to be handled sensitively. It was completely random and, in my opinion, unnecessary to have included this. The victim wasn’t given a voice and while I understand McEwan may have had good intentions, these themes cannot and should not be used just to further a plot. Overall, I think the book’s undoing came down to McEwan attempting to do too much - leading to few things actually being done well.
I’m big into Sci-Fi fiction so I desperately wanted to like Machines Like Me but after about 50 pages, this book completely lost me. The characters were underwhelming, it struggled to keep my attention and I despised its treatment of rape. I do enjoy McEwan’s writing style and loved Atonement when I read it a few years ago so I am still open to reading some of his other work. It’s just a shame this one missed the mark for me.