Friday, April 5, 2013

Clarke Corners A Scientist's Daughter

There is nobody on the planet like Finn. He is seemingly courteous and courageous. He is both unordinary and handsome. Even his eyes sometimes glow in the moonlight, a barely noticeable glint that somehow prevents his entire being from blending into the background.

At least that is the way Catarina Novak (Cat) sees Finn on the first day her father brings him home. She suspects him to be a ghost, part of the dark magic that most people seem to suspect he works in his laboratory. Finn, of course, is nothing of the sort. He is a machine, but one who is clearly sentient.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a twisted fairy tale. 

Some people might be tempted to call it a love story between a girl and her android, but author Cassandra Rose Clarke shoots for more in spinning her haunting story about a young girl coming of age in a not-so-distant future. Even the world itself is a warning. It has already suffered an environmental calamity, leaving the planet permanently changed (at least from the purview of humankind).

Her tutor since age six is Finn, an android who is also charged with helping her father as an aerospace design assistant. But Finn isn't an ordinary android. He was a multi-billion dollar project undertaken by a scientist that most people would describe as more mad than Cat's father.

That is not to say that there aren't other androids. There are thousands of them, enough to create a brand new minority class as companies, conglomerates and domestic customers exploit them before the law catches up. Sentience and slavery, in turns out, are impossibly hard to reconcile. So is prejudice.

Perhaps nobody feels it more than Cat, assuming Finn can't feel beyond his program. The story, told exclusively through Cat's eyes, follows the young girl as she becomes a beautiful woman who is equally artistic and narcissistic. It makes her human, and sometimes, painfully unlikable.

The pace is patient, plodding along with detailed introspection. 

In the hands of another author, the book would have read like its slow pace. But Clarke's craft makes The Mad Scientist's Daughter work as an internal adventure that explores humanity and the human capacity for empathy and selfishness. By using the immediacy of detail to keep it interesting, Clarke continually offers small surprises to cut across three taboos — tutor and student, human and android, slave and owner.

At the same time, it can also be simply described as an unrequited love with two twists. Unlike most unrequited love stories, there are internal barriers that make people wonder who is the admirer and who is the admired.

As the puzzle box is opened, one piece at a time, there is always a constant reminder that while Finn is sentient, he is also incapable of emotion. One can only wonder whether imbuing a sentient being with enough unique experiences would make him unique if not human.

Likewise, Cat's possible love for Finn is frequently suspect as selfishness and narcissism. Or, much like most readers will experience, humans cannot help but to project themselves onto animals and objects. As the story progresses, Cat isn't the only one who hopes that Finn might become human.

A couple of graphs about emerging author Cassandra Rose Clarke.

The three taboos mentioned are largely what makes this Clarke's first adult fiction novel. Her other two books were written for young adults, The Assassin's Curse (October 2012) and its sequel The Pirate's Wish (due out June 2013). She has also written several short stories that she classifies as speculative fiction, frequently bending genres together to make her stories unique.

There is no question that Clarke is a fresh literacy voice and her emerging career is worth following. In fact, she received her master's in creative writing from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2008 before going on to attend the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter By Cassandra Rose Clarke Sparks 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although best described as a love story, the book steers clear of becoming a science fiction romance. There is much more to be discovered here morally and intellectually as Clarke endeavors to redefine the already confusing definition of love with imperfect authenticity and sometimes painful intensity.

In terms of the science, she is mostly spot on with only one annoying flaw. The glass houses of the future will likely not be confined transparency. And if they were, it would probably be with the pretense that nobody would care to look even if it is humankind's nature to be nosy.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke is available from Amazon or may be ordered through Barnes & Noble. You can also download the audiobook from iTunes. Kate Rudd narrates the audiobook as Cat, bringing some additional life to the story. As a narrator, it isn't the first time we've come across her. Rudd also read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.
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