Sunday, February 17, 2013

EXTINCTION by Mark Alpert

Todd McLaren narrates EXTINCTION by Mark Alpert, combining a documentarian tone with often melodramatic interpretations of dialogue. The science in the novel draws from many fields, particularly robotics and neuroscience, in imagining a future when miniaturization allows electronics to be attached to flies, making them surveillance weapons. The story follows Jim Pierce, an ex-Army Ranger whose estranged daughter is a hacker on the run, her life in jeopardy. The Chinese military has developed artificial intelligence, but "Supreme Harmony" has gone out of control and now seeks control of humanity by creating an army of human drones---lobotomized subjects called "Modules" with electronic implants to control them, acquire their knowledge, and see through their eyes. Pierce, his daughter, a former colleague, and an NSA operative team together to fight the network's plans to eliminate humanity with nuclear weapons while battling to survive an array of technological adversaries, including cyborg flies carrying miniature spy cams. The book is an extrapolation of current advances in computer science and artificial limbs (along with the military application of such), turned into a suspense novel with all the usual story elements typical of the genre. The vision is a Hollywood one, for sure, with big themes---the Singularity, man becoming machine, and Big Brother watching you with a million lenses. There are artificial human eyes. There are chase scenes and puzzles to solve involving encryption codes. InfoLeaks is Alpert's stand-in for WikiLeaks. It is another version of Skynet in The Terminator, where A.I. doesn't like us, and here hopes to replace us, save the Earth in the process, and enjoy the "beautiful" life of freedom it has awoken to. Not surprisingly, Alpert is a former contributing editor at Scientific American. Yet the writing is not without flaws. Some scenes are drawn out or padded. While Pierce is described as a hero with high ethics, he (and his NSA possible love interest) use the F word a lot when in tight spots, and these are comically exaggerated by the narrator. The exposition contains many clich├ęs (one might say "riddled with.") Finally, while I found the science enthralling, I wish the way the story played out in a less blockbuster-oriented fashion. For example, why not the opposite of machines trying to kill us, but rather trying to save us from ourselves? (This could be against our will, and provide suspense and humor.) Narrator McLaren is a former radio announcer now working as a voice-over actor in radio and TV commercials, plus cable documentaries. Alpert is also author of a novel about Einstein whispering the theory of everything on his deathbed.

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