The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose ClarkeMy rating: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher (via NetGalley)
Cat Novak is the scientifically illiterate daughter of two cyberneticist parents, both technically brilliant but somewhat lacking in the parenting department (not least in failing to recognise the value of her interests, when she seems unlikely to become a scientist). The other member of their household, an android called Finn, is the one who really looks out for her. Cat doesn't have any of what her mother euphemistically calls "friends her own age" (by which she really means human friends), and even as she progresses through school and college, moving from one worthless boyfriend to the next, Cat struggles to form meaningful relationships. The only 'person' she seems able to care for is Finn, and intellectually she knows he can't reciprocate.
Issues of affection and consent are somewhat hazy when one party is an AI, but Cat's teenage relationship with Finn feels creepy not so much because he's an android but because he's known her, and watched over her, almost all her life. While she's grown and changed dramatically, he hasn't aged.
This (short) novel races through decades of Cat's life, from childhood through her teens and into adulthood, at times making breathtaking leaps of years in a single page. While I really enjoyed the story, I sometimes found the time-jumps a little too jarring, and the resulting style occasionally read more like a lab report. The world-building was also a little thin, being described as "post-apocalyptic" with various mentions of some mysterious Disasters of the past, but this isn't well elaborated except in the harshness of the climate.
Cat is a very difficult character to like. She can be spoiled, sulky, and a little too willing to use others for her own ends, while often coming across as a bit wet and reluctant to make important decisions. On the other hand, it's clear that her unusual childhood has left her ill equipped to handle her emotions, and I did feel sorry for her. She does also, eventually, start to grow up.
Finn was my favourite character, although we only see him through Cat's (rose tinted?) perspective. His balance of human-like awareness and machine-like logic was charming, and he has his own issues to come to terms with. He's also just plain nice.
All in all, an enjoyable read, with plenty of thought-provoking ideas about the possible future of artificial intelligence.