I’ve just posted this review on Goodreads to complete my commitment to R4R [read-for-review] the book. I’ve agonized over this review and I don’t think I’ll be doing any more R4R’s. I’ve turned comments off.
Ghost in the Machine – Goodreads review – 3/5
Expectations can have a profound effect on how someone reacts to a story. When I volunteered to R4R [Read-for-Review] Ghost in the Machine by C.E.Kilgore, I vaguely knew it would be a science fiction romance, but I expected the science fiction to be the main focus of the story. When it became obvious the romantic element would dominate, I was disappointed. When I read the first erotic scene I felt uneasy because I don’t really like erotica.
So from my personal point of view, there went one star. I need to stress how very personal that was though. Someone more familiar with the sub-genre would probably be disappointed if the focus had been on the science fiction instead of the romance.
And that brings me to the science fiction elements of the story. I was expecting deep world building and C.E.Kilgore did not disappoint. The political, social and historical elements were well thought out, and I enjoyed them. The actual science however was a little jarring.
Even assuming a technology thousands of times more advanced than our own, why would you have a port hole in a space ship? Quite apart from the fact it would be the weakest point in the integrity of the hull – shields or no shields – what function would it serve when for most of the time, there would be absolutely nothing to see?
Another small jarring moment was the fact that the crew did not stand 24 hour watches. I understand the ship AI was capable of running the ship on autopilot, but when pirates and other hostiles are ‘possible’, I would expect someone to be on watch at all times.
Unfortunately, the most jarring science fiction element was one of the main characters – Ethan.
Ethan is a tall, blue Mecha. A mechanical man. A self-aware automaton with an outer covering of ‘flesh’ that is anatomically correct, up to and including the genitals. Those genitals are not just for show, they are fully functioning.
So far, I can accept Ethan without any problems. What I cannot accept is that Ethan, however advanced he may be, would be exactly the same as a human being. My point here is the word ‘same’.
Ethan is portrayed as a special kind of Mecha who has some kind of psychic aura. I have to assume this aura is what makes it possible for him to feel all the things a human male would feel, including sexual arousal, tenderness, lust, jealousy and love. In essence, Ethan is a big blue man with arrested emotional development who learns to love thanks to his relationship with a good woman.
I have no intention of exploring that Romantic trope, but I would like to point out that human males made of blood, bone and a full set of functioning DNA can lack empathy. Some of them turn into psychopaths.
Now let’s look at Ethan. He is basically a machine run by an AI that is aware, and conscious of its own existence. But that does not make it human, and it certainly does not guarantee empathy. Psychopaths are human, but they do not have empathy. Yet this self-aware machine is supposed to be capable of all the better human emotions – such as love.
In a human being, electrical signals travel from the nerves to synapses in the brain. Picture a whole heap of roads that all meet on the shores of a lake. To get that signal across the lake you need a boat[s]. If the signal is very strong, a big boat made of chemicals/hormones will ferry the signal across the lake to multiple roads on the other side. If the signal is weak, the boat will be small and may only take the signal across to one or two roads. [This is an analogy only. The exact process is rather different but explaining it would take volumes]. As the signal passes from synapse to synapse it either gets stronger or weaker.
That interplay of electrical and chemical elements is a huge part of what makes us human, makes us feel. Electrical impulses alone do not get the job done.
So right from the start I could not accept that Ethan was, to all intents and purposes, a man. Sadly that made the love story fall flat for me. As the romance between Ethan and Orynn [the female protagonist] is essentially the plot in book 1, Ghost in the Machine just didn’t have the wow factor for me. That said, the ending of the book hinted at a stronger, and for me, far more interesting plot evolving over the rest of the series.
Finally a word about the writing itself. On the whole, the author writes well, and by the second half of the book the prose was strong and created vivid images. But. ‘May’ instead of ‘might’ consistently jarred me out of the story. ‘Might’ is the past tense of ‘may’, so if the story is written in the past tense, which it is, ‘might’ is the correct word to use. A small point, I know, but it kept jerking me out of the story.
Overall, Ghost in the Machine was an enjoyable debut novel, with signs that later books in the series would be stronger in terms of plot. It did not, however, meet my expectations of a science fiction story with an element of romance. That said, someone with different expectations should find it very enjoyable.
[I should point out that I am a 60 year old female who has been reading classic science fiction for 40 years].