Superlatives are insufficient to convey the original impact of this book and the sheer fun I had in re-reading it. Sladek is a fierce satirist and this tale of the creation and development of the first robotic artificial intelligence has education and government as its main targets. But it is no haphazard attack. It is choreographed as tightly and as effectively as a Joss Whedon fight sequence (think Summer Glau in Firefly/Serenity - as a chap is sometimes inclined so to do), and it is just as deadly.
And as if this was not enough, John Sladek is a writer of enormous skill and intelligence (look out for his superb Masterson and the Clerks – a piece of true absurdist literature). He manages to weave deep philosophical discussions about the nature of identity into the tale without once interrupting the flow; he manages to knock a few iconic figures from their pedestals; he entertains with his wonderful sense of humour; and he treats his reader with respect.
A lot of the action takes place ‘off screen’. What seems a throwaway line or action in one chapter emerges a few chapters down the line as significant. Things going on in the background suddenly flower elsewhere. Whole scenes are conjured in a well placed phrase. His command of dialogue is superb. And the whole thing is told in a fresh and engaging style. Brilliant. Inspirational.
As ever, there will be people who don’t pick this book up because it is labelled science fiction. Their loss. It is far superior in style, content, and relevance to much of what passes for literature these days. I was going to carry straight on with Roderick at Random, but having just taken delivery of the new Del Rey Elric and a replacement copy of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright I have a feeling it may be a week or two before I return.