A Strange and Brilliant Light

By Eli Lee

A Strange and Brilliant Light, a novel by Eli Lee
Book details

Artificial intelligence is an exciting field that could help enrich the lives of most people on the planet from simple things like shopping to making life more inclusive for those with disabilities. AI will also come with a human cost. Many of the jobs that we do today could be redundant in twenty years and in turn the people doing those jobs will also be made redundant. It is always best to have one eye on the future and steer your career in a way that will best protect its longevity, but not all people have that option. What happens to those people caught up in an AI revolution, will their lives be bettered or made far worse? 

It started on the factory floor. New humanoid robots known as Auts could do the work of several people with no need for breaks or basic rights. For Lal and Rose this still seemed far enough away as they work in a coffee shop. However, it is not long until their chain starts taking the lead on placing Auts in serving roles. What is next for Lal and Rose? Meanwhile, Janetta has found herself at the forefront of the debate with her PhD concentrating on making AI empathetic. Will her research free the AI or enslave them? 

Science Fiction is such a great genre as you can lean into the science elements as much or as little as you want. A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee has the concept of AI at its core, but it is not about the science. Instead, this is about the people that the development of AI effects. Three ordinary young women whose lives are being impacted by the emergence of Auts in society. 

Lal takes to Auts with an almost casual indifference, her goal is to move to the big city and earn enough money that she never has to worry again. Whilst Lal sees her life moving up the corporate ladder, Rose leans in the other direction. The lessons learnt from her deceased Father come to the fore as she seeks to protect the common worker from the casual disregard of the companies that are replacing them with machines. These two stories complement one another. Two old friends that no longer have a lot in common. 

The final element of story follows Janetta, and it does feel slightly separate as she pursues an academic interest in AI. It is only as the narrative progresses that the three stories truly come together, and a decision must made by all three women. The journey that brought them to this conclusion has changed all three and there is no guarantee that they will do the right thing. 

Strange throws is several interesting ideas both about relationships and in science fiction. It is principally a book about working class people and how they react to their traditional roles being replaced. You could transport the story to the days of the Luddites or more recent years as skilled labourers have been moved from their traditional roles into out-of-town call centres and monster DIY stores. Having grown up in a town whose principal industry was swiped away from under its feet, I can feel sympathy for the likes of Rose and her brother as they look upon an uncertain future. 

The thread of AI being a benefit, or a curse, is another core principle of the book. Lee uses the various characters with opposing views to explore whether Auts will eventually help humanity or undermine them. This is not done in an apocalyptic way, but through conversations by real people on the real impact of job losses. Strange is a science fiction book that uses its speculative idea not to dominate the book, but to inform the conversation. Fans of relational narratives will enjoy the interactions of the three protagonists while there is also intellectual AI debate for those science fiction readers more drawn to ideas over people. 


Written on 22nd July 2021 by .

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