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Machines Like Me
Cover of Machines Like Me
Machines Like Me
A Novel
New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act
Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda's help—he designs Adam's personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn't long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.
In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.
New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act
Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda's help—he designs Adam's personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn't long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.
In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book ONE

    It was religious yearning granted hope, it was the holygrail of science. Our ambitions ran high and low—for a creation myth made real, for a monstrous act of self-love. As soon as it was feasible, we had no choice but to follow ourdesires and hang the consequences. In loftiest terms, we aimed to escape our mortality, confront or even replace the Godhead with a perfect self. More practically, we intended to devise an improved, more modern version of ourselves and exult in the joy of invention, the thrill of mastery. In the autumn of the twentieth century, it came about at last, the first step towards the fulfilment of an ancient dream, the beginning of the long lesson we would teach ourselves that however complicated we were, however faulty and difficult to describe in even our simplest actions and modes of being, we could be imitated and bettered. And I was there as a young man, an early and eager adopter in that chilly dawn.

    But artificial humans were a cliché long before they arrived, so when they did, they seemed to some a disappointment. The imagination, fleeter than history, than technological advance, had already rehearsed this future in books, then films and TV dramas, as if human actors, walking with a certain glazed look, phony head movements, some stiffness in the lower back, could prepare us for life with our cousins from the future.

    I was among the optimists, blessed by unexpected funds following my mother's death and the sale of the family home, which turned out to be on a valuable development site. The first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression went on sale the week before the Falkland Task Force set off on its hopeless mission. Adam cost £86,000. I brought him home in a hired van to my unpleasant flat in north Clapham. I'd made a reckless decision, but I was encouraged by reports that Sir Alan Turing, war hero and presiding genius of the digital age, had taken delivery of the same model. He probably wanted to have his lab take it apart to examine its workings fully.

    Twelve of this first edition were called Adam, thirteen were called Eve. Corny, everyone agreed, but commercial. Notions of biological race being scientifically discredited,the twenty-five were designed to cover a range of ethnicities. There were rumours, then complaints, that the Arab could not be told apart from the Jew. Random programming as well as life experience would grant to all complete latitude in sexual preference. By the end of the first week, all the Eves sold out. At a careless glance, I might have taken my Adam for a Turk or a Greek. He weighed 170 pounds, so I had to ask my upstairs neighbour, Miranda, to help me carry him in from the street on the disposable stretcher that came with the purchase.

    While his batteries began to charge, I made us coffee, then scrolled through the 470-page online handbook. Its language was mostly clear and precise. But Adam was created across different agencies and in places the instructions had the charm of a nonsense poem. "Unreveal upside of B347k vest to gain carefree emoticon with motherboard output to attenuate mood-swing penumbra."

    At last, with cardboard and polystyrene wrapping strewn around his ankles, he sat naked at my tiny dining table, eyes closed, a black power line trailing from the entry point in his umbilicus to a thirteen-amp socket in the wall. It would take sixteen hours to fire him up. Then sessions of download updates and personal preferences. I wanted him now, and so did Miranda. Like eager young parents, we were avid for his first words. There was no loudspeaker cheaply buried in his chest....
About the Author-
  • IAN McEWAN is the bestselling author of seventeen books, including the novels Nutshell; The Children Act; Sweet Tooth; Solar, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; On Chesil Beach; Saturday; Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both short-listed for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2018

    In 1980s London, Charlie longs for mysterious upstairs neighbor Miranda but contents himself with spending his inheritance on one of the 24 beautiful new robotic humans, named Adam or Eve, created by Alan Turing after his World War II triumph with the Enigma code-breaking machine. Charlie's Adam figures in his courtship of Miranda, as protests against Margaret Thatcher's policies rage. Alternate history from the multi-award-winning McEwan.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 11, 2019
    McEwan’s thought-provoking novel (after Nutshell) is about the increasingly fraught relationship between a man, a woman, and a synthetic human. Opening in an alternate 1982 London in which technology is not dissimilar from today’s (characters text and send emails), 32-year-old Charlie spends £86,000 of his inheritance on the “first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks,” who can pass for human unless closely inspected. His name is Adam (there are 12 Adams and 13 Eves total; the Eves sell out first), and Charlie designs Adam’s personality along with his neighbor and girlfriend Miranda. Soon, Adam informs Charlie that he “should be careful of trusting her completely,” and quickly falls in love with her, thus inextricably binding their fates together. The novel’s highlight is Adam, a consistently surprising character who quickly disables his own kill switch and composes an endless stream of haiku dedicated to Miranda because, as he states, “the lapidary haiku, the still, clear perception and celebration of things as they are, will be the only necessary form” as misunderstanding is eradicated in the future. The novel loses steam when Adam’s not the focus: much page space is devoted to a thread about an orphan boy, as well as Charlie’s thoughts and feelings about Miranda. Though the reader may wish for a tighter story, this is nonetheless an intriguing novel about humans, machines, and what constitutes a self.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2019
    The British author's latest novel concerns a triangle formed by two humans and one android in an alternate version of England.The year is 1982, the British are about to lose the Falklands War, and Alan Turing is not only still alive, but his work has helped give rise to a line of androids almost indistinguishable from humans. The narrator, Charlie Friend, an aimless 32-year-old, inherits enough money to buy one of the pricey robots. He and Miranda, the younger woman living above him, each supply half the "personality parameters" required to push Adam past his factory presets. Before long, as things between the humans seem to be getting serious, Charlie finds himself the first man "to be cuckolded by an artefact." They all survive the fling, although Charlie imagines he detects "the scent of warm electronics on her sheets," and Adam turns lovesick, composing 2,000 haiku for Miranda (namesake of the Bard's character who famously utters: "O brave new world, / That has such people in't"). Early on, the android has told Charlie that Miranda is a liar and might harm him without providing details. These statements flag a fateful backstory comprising a teenage Miranda, two schoolmates, and a death threat. Along the way to a busy and disturbing ending, Charlie makes a connection with Turing that allows for some nerd-pleasing kibble like "non-deterministic polynomial time." McEwan (Nutshell, 2016, etc.) brings humor and considerable ethical rumination to a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence. But his human characters seem unfinished, his plot a bit ragged. And why the alternate 1982 England, other than to fire a few political shots about the Falklands, Thatcher, and Tony Benn? Does the title make sense as either clause or complete sentence? Are we meant to imagine the "real" author as a present-day Adam?McEwan is a gifted storyteller, but this one is as frustrating as it is intriguing.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 1, 2019
    As in McEwan's previous novel, Nutshell (2016), told from the point of view of a fetus, this much-revered writer again stretches himself. Here he imagines an alternate history in which technology advanced much faster than in real time, and the great polymath Alan Turing lived much longer. The narrator, Charlie, lives in south London in the 1980s, and he decides to invest his sizable inheritance in an Adam, one of the first fully conscious androids. Charlie and his much younger girlfriend, Miranda?a stupendous creation?navigate this new world together, and as Adam struggles with what he is, McEwan explores complex themes of consciousness, being, and self as well as the impact Adam's existence has on Charlie and Miranda. While the alternate history is at times clunky and distracting, the comparisons between contemporary British politics and the 1980s are apt. McEwan makes an odd but inventive premise work spectacularly well; it enables him to explore nearly every hot-button issue, and it is fascinating to witness one of the finest living novelists delve into topics of such pertinence and complexity.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: McEwan's literary audaciousness ensures ongoing, elevated interest in each new book.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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Machines Like Me
A Novel
Ian McEwan
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