Book Review: SYNAPSE, by Steven James

Rated five out of five stars by reviewer Iris Chacon.
I received an ARC via NetGalley and I am posting my honest opinions about this book voluntarily, without recompense or obligation.

Synapse, by Steven James

It’s thirty years in the future, and life has both changed and stayed the same.  Self-driving cars are the norm and everybody has robot employees, called Artificials. Still, the Pacific Northwest of the USA is home of the latest tech giant, and people still wrestle with terrorism, political street protests, and prejudice.

The spine of the story is the controversy surrounding AI, or artificial intelligence. Thirty years in the future, people are still arguing about whether smart machines are good or bad. Tech industry execs and shareholders, of course, see a golden goose in the newest level of thinking robots. Many citizens disagree, and some have turned to truck bombs and other catastrophic violence.

The controversy is brought to a human level by author Steven James, who introduces us to Trevor (a tech industry security expert and atheist) and his estranged sister, Kestral, an ordained minister in the church. Kestral is unmarried and has opted for in vitro fertilization to start a family of her own.

As the novel begins, Kestral suffers the death of her child. Trevor, thinking he is being helpful, ships the latest robot model to his sister. Kestral does not trust in AI the way Trevor does not trust in God, so the arrival of Jordan (a thinking, feeling, human-looking robot) brings the siblings’ differences to a crisis point.

On the way home from the hospital, after losing her child, Kestral is nearly caught in the truck-bombing of a tech plant. She rushes from her car to help save lives at the bloody incident scene and believes she has saved at least one man, although he will lose an arm.

Thirty years in the future, loss of an arm is not a problem. In fact, it can be an advantage, because robotic arms make superior limbs and are installed routinely. Artificial body parts are so common, in fact, that the general population is divided fairly evenly into three groups: Naturals (humans), Artificials (not humans), and Plussers (humans with enhanced artificial parts).

Trevor is trying to prevent further violence against AI manufacturers, Kestral is trying to mourn the death of her tiny daughter, and Jordan is trying to understand and protect his human owner, amid the larger chaos of a world fighting over advanced technology.

The story has plenty of action and suspense to keep us turning those pages, but author Steven James brings us a more than mere entertainment. James involves us in the emotional ups and downs of the characters and causes us to examine our own philosophies about the nature of life and faith.

For example, Trevor wants Kestral to tell him how God could let her baby girl die, if He is both all good and all powerful.  Kestral gives him her answers, even though she is struggling with her own questions at the same time. 

Jordan, who has been given abilities to understand and experience emotions, pain, and more, has his own questions about faith and an afterlife. Does an afterlife exist for sentient robots? If Jordan can understand the Bible, can he also believe in God and Jesus? Can a machine worship?

The author sweeps us along at a faster and faster pace, with the stakes rising to a life-and-death level, right up to the surprising, enigmatic, and exciting climax.

This novel has all that any science fiction enthusiast could want. Readers from the community of faith will enjoy and appreciate it as well.  James forces no conclusions upon anyone, but he presents excellent questions and arguments from all sides of each issue the story confronts.

Don’t shy away from this book, thinking it’s a philosophical treatise or religious homily. This is a rootin’ tootin’ heckuva good story from beginning to end.

Synapse, by Steven James, is available at AMAZON and other book sellers. Follow the author on AMAZON or GOODREADS.

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If you liked Finding Miranda, you’ll love The Mammoth Murders, Book 2 of the Minokee Mysteries, now available at Amazon worldwide as well as your favorite book seller.

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