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Fascinating, complex science fiction

By Linda Schoales, editor

Feb 20, 2009: “Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect” is a fascinating, complex science fiction novel about the ultimate super computer and what happens after it decides that only it can protect humankind. The novel comes with a warning that it contains “strong language and extreme depictions of acts of sex and violence”. This is not an exaggeration. If you are at all squeamish about violent, sado-masochistic sex you will not enjoy this novel. If you can get past what’s in the first chapter, you’ll probably survive the rest and find a brilliantly written exploration of what it means to be human.

The first chapter starts after the Change. The super computer, Prime Intellect, is so powerful that it can give people anything they want. Literally. Caroline Frances Hubert is 690 years old, with the mind of a fiercely independent, cunning old lady, and a body that is in its mid 20’s. She’s proud of her old-style skills, and her reputation as Queen of the Death Jockeys, people who stage exhibitions of their own “deaths”. They compete for the most “savage, outré and unique demonstration” of death. Each time they die, Prime Intellect brings them back, in any form they choose. The novel “Mayflies” explored the idea of what happens to humans who don’t have a purpose. “Kushiel’s Dart” had a heroine who was a masochist. “Metamorphosis” takes the idea of bored immortality into some truly nauseating places.

The second chapter rewinds to begin the story of how this world of Cyberspace came to be. Dr. Lawrence created an artificial intelligence using Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics as its “morality”. I don’t know enough about the technology to know if any of this is possible but it makes for very interesting reading. Prime Intellect takes the three laws to the extreme, figuring out how to protect humans from everything, even aging. From there, the novel alternates between Caroline in the future, starting to question the world Prime Intellect has created, and Lawrence in the past watching this world be created.

The characters are very well-written, with even Prime Intellect feeling like a real “person”. Some of them are horrible people, some of them are merely human. Caroline is fiercely intelligent, reveling in the challenge of the puzzles she encounters as she tries to understand what happened to her and her world. There is a lot of very interesting, philosophical dialog amongst the action. The story is well-paced and compelling, even when the reader may want to turn away. The action is often savage and even disgusting, but it is very vivid.

“Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect” is a disturbing, intriguing novel about a future world and the near-present that leads to it. If you can accept the violence and graphic images, there are some really interesting ideas discussed. I’m actually glad I read it and I certainly won’t easily forget it.

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