Our Lady of the Artilects, by Andrew Gillsmith
Hey guys, welcome back to Bookish Beyond.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying the holidays.
Today, I’m reviewing Our Lady of the Artilects, a fascinating science fiction read by Andrew Gillsmith.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
Set mainly in Benin City, Africa (some point after the 2200s), this story follows the mystery of the artilects (advanced synthetic humanoids), who have started having visions and appear to be gaining consciousness.
Told in three parts, the story begins by following the possession of one such artilect, Thierry, who has been having visions of the Virgin Mary. When it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong, an exorcist (Father Serafian) is sent by the Vatican to investigate the possession. However, the church is not the only sector interested in uncovering why artilects are having these visions.
Soon enough, more artilects begin to change. It appears as though they now have souls, just like humans. As they begin exercising their own free will, they start disappearing from their owner’s homes without a trace. Meanwhile, in certain areas of the world, people’s technological implants are failing due to an unknown cause – one which hides an even darker secret.
Although there were many interesting characters presented throughout the book, I have chosen to focus my review on the following four: Thierry (an advanced Artilect), Father Serafian (a renowned AI-expert and exorcist), Channing (a well-known technological inventor), and finally, the demonic entity which possesses the artilects, beginning with Thierry.
Thierry is a highly-advanced, twenty-year-old artilect, with superior intellect and reasoning skills. He acts as a personal secretary for the wealthy Mr Okpara, and plays the role of a companion for Okpara’s family. From the start, it was clear that Thierry is a selfless individual, who is protective of others, especially those close to him. He is highly intelligent and logical but is also deeply empathic. He is described as ‘in the world but not of the world’, as he is a synthetic being. Nevertheless, Thierry often seemed indistinguishable from the humans around him, at times seeming more human than they.
Father Serafian is a highly-trained exorcist working for the Vatican. His intense curiosity is the first trait which stands out about him, with his mind constantly chattering away, seeking answers to various questions that come to him. As the Vatican’s primary AI-expert, Father Serafian has studied synthetic technology for a long time and views the make-up of the artilects as an intricate work of art. As an individual, he is helpful and perceptive, always noticing things that others don’t and thinking on a deeper level than the average person. He has spent his life ‘straddling the line between faith and science’, only to have his world combine the two in an intriguing way. Overall, I found him to be a likable and intriguing individual, with a curious way of thinking.
Next, we come to Dr Channing, Mr Okpara’s boss, and a creative technological inventor. From the start, he seemed to be quite a blunt and un-sympathetic sort of character. He appeared sly to me, with questionable motives at best. I could not bring myself to trust him at any point in the story, sensing a deeper corruption at play within this individual’s psyche.
The Demonic Entity
Finally, I would like to discuss the demonic entity, which possesses Thierry’s artificial form. As expected, such an entity was cunning and highly intelligent, possessing a broad range of knowledge about the history of the universe, as if it had witnessed the birth of the cosmos itself. It was also arrogant and highly persuasive, able to talk its way into people’s (and artilect’s) minds quite easily. Overall, I found it to be a mysterious and thought-provoking character. However, again, they were not a character I felt I could trust.
Throughout the story, I noted many positive aspects of the book, which I have detailed below:
- Firstly, the idea of the artilects was ingenious and well-explored. The concept of having such self-aware intelligences which seem human themselves was an intriguing concept, and made me want to read more, to learn about how such a sense of consciousness had been cultivated in them.
- Secondly, the characters are introduced in a concise manner, leaving room for curiosity and an air of mystery to linger, as to their rich pasts. There was just enough detail given to have me intrigued by a character’s actions and goals, while allowing me to wonder how they came to be who they are as an individual.
- Thirdly, the technological advances described in the book are fascinating. E.g. the simulacrum, which allows artilects to have access to ‘the full range of human emotional responses.’
- Furthermore, the story itself was complex and well-executed, weaving together several types of conflicts, be they interpersonal, internal, or external.
- In addition, the story was gripping, pulling me into its narrative at every turn. I felt the urgent need to uncover the mystery of the artilects and their visions myself, wanting to understand the origin of their sudden sense of free will.
- Finally, the book was even more fascinating as it contained a range of theological ideas, which provoked me to reflect on a deeper level about the way we – as humans – perceive the world, and our place in it.
As always, I made sure to keep an eye out for any interesting quotes, and Our Lady of the Artilects proved to be a treasure-trove of them.
1) ‘A man can’t be blamed for not knowing, but for not asking.’
2) Nothing is deterministic – There was always choice.’
3) ‘What if evil clothes itself in beauty and we fail to see it for what it is?’
4) ‘Every meaningful choice that humans made involved a sacrifice of some kind. And sacrifices must cost something.’
5) ‘True freedom is only possible when the infinite questions are left unanswered. Our minds were made for such freedom. Without it, there is only madness.’
6) ‘The created thing is always superior to its creator – things are created for the very purpose of doing what the creator is incapable of doing, to fill a lack.’
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Our Lady of the Artilects. It took me on a thought-provoking journey concerning theology, the nature of being human, and consciousness.
Key themes included; theology and religion, advanced technology, neuroscience, and developing consciousness.
My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: lovers of spiritual, thought-provoking sci-fi novels.
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