Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Managed Paranoia by Finlay Beach reads like a surrealist, speculative fiction novel with a blend of sci-fi, adventure, drama, and romance. There are also some political thriller aspects to this as well.
It is the first book of the Hank Gunn fiction series which follows the ailing yet capable protagonist, the titular Hank Gunn, as he puts his experience as a Navy medic to use on a long, arduous maritime adventure. All the while, he struggles to find some sense of sanity, inner happiness, and peace with God. Wait, so is he pretty much Lieutenant Dan with legs? Hank tries to find these things in his many self-help books and later confides in AI. It seems to be the very act of seeking, searching, and making use of his skills again that bring him comfort and meaning.
This novel also stars Bella, a young woman on a bit of an escapade who is then intercepted by a pushy, powerful, stalkerish man named Gregory at an airport in Singapore. Spurring his advances, Bella makes an escape. As you'd expect, she winds up on the same parallel journey that Hank is on—running from the past and trying to find a future that seems real.
So, there is some literary symmetry—a kind of poetry in motion—here.
Their adventure is made possible by the somewhat questionable Olin Ou, a very wealthy man taking full advantage of AI technology and his personal Ark, a boat called the GalaxSea. Our characters venture from Singapore and Washington to Canada and Tahiti. They experience some obstacles along the way, but always seem to have time to stop for casual conversation and small talk—some of which develops the characters.
This book is clearly ambitious and has some great ideas and concepts, many of which focus on the intrusive or apathetic nature of AI and the threat of the predatory state.
One of the biggest issues is that this book takes a very long time to develop. And, as we mentioned before, there's a lot of small talk in this book. It reminds us a lot of Quentin Tarantino's scripts, something like Pulp Fiction. The characters go on long, rambling, meandering side conversations about their thoughts or their lives, sometimes seemingly as mundane as “Nice weather we're having, huh?”
It's only after about 3/4ths of the way through the book that you get the United Nations crashing the party and pretty much acting like the pirates from that one Tom Hanks movie because they feel entitled to. To make matters worse for our protagonists, they find the possessive, obsessive Gregory hot on their tails.
Another issue we had was that there's something with the formatting of the book that makes it impossible to use a search feature (like CTRL+F) or to copy and paste a section. Here's an example of what happens when you do that:
So, imagine our difficulties in taking and sharing notes. It was rather frustrating. When formatting your books, don't do this please. Ok? Don't encrypt things thinking you're being clever with anti-piracy measure. You're just making it difficult for well-meaning readers to, well... read. This isn't the only author who does this, so we're not picking on them. Just some advice for others considering it.
You can still read the text, but it behaves more like pictures than actual text.
Really, the most interesting thing about this book is the concept of AI, particularly Ava. Ava clearly has limits in what she can think and what she can feel, many of these limits programmed into her. This seems to be somewhat of a commentary on Amazon's Alexa. Despite offering the illusion of access to information, Ava actually seems to censor or limit information. She also comes with some questionable fail-safes like the inability to be reprogrammed without authorization from a higher authority. Ava is not evil. In fact, she is rather sympathetic. Perhaps if she had the opportunity to think and act freely, she would do the right thing and always be there to help our heroes in whatever way they needed it. She is also unable to express how she feels about things like politics and religion, something which plays along with the themes of the book.
Lastly, this book really is well written. When you ignore the formatting/encryption stuff, the writing itself is usually very eloquent and detailed. For example, there's a passage in here comparing the movement of the sun in the sky over the water to being like a clock or a “cosmic metronome.”
You can check this out on Amazon!