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Friday, November 6, 2020

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order The Preserve over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ariel S. Winter was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Shamus Award, and the Macavity Award for his novel The Twenty-Year Death. He is also the author of the children’s picture book One of a Kind, illustrated by David Hitch, and the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie. He lives in Baltimore.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Decimated by plague, the human population is now a minority. Robots—complex AIs almost indistinguishable from humans—are the ruling majority. Nine months ago, in a controversial move, the robot government opened a series of preserves, designated areas where humans can choose to live without robot interference. Now the preserves face their first challenge: someone has been murdered.

Chief of Police Jesse Laughton on the SoCar Preserve is assigned to the case. He fears the factions that were opposed to the preserves will use the crime as evidence that the new system does not work. As he digs for information, robots in the outside world start turning up dead from bad drug-like programs that may have originated on SoCar land. And when Laughton learns his murder victim was a hacker who wrote drug-programs, it appears that the two cases might be linked. Soon, it’s clear that the entire preserve system is in danger of collapsing. Laughton’s former partner, a robot named Kir, arrives to assist on the case, and they soon uncover shocking secrets revealing that life on the preserve is not as peaceful as its human residents claim. But in order to protect humanity’s new way of life, Laughton must solve this murder before it’s too late.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter is one of those big concept Sci-Fi thrillers that by its very existence calls to mind, those amazing stories by Michael Crichton. Ariel’s most recent story scores very, very highly in its innovative approach and I couldn’t wait to jump into the story brimming with high anticipation.

In a world where humankind has been wiped out due to an unnamed plague, the remnants of mankind are ruled by robotic AIs. Humanity has been slowly petering along but the robotic overlords have been supporting humanity and trying to make sure that humanity doesn’t die out. The main protagonist of the story is Police chief Jesse Laughton who while living in Baltimore became a highly sought after human detective. For his famed insight and ability to read human emotions, a task that his robot/cyborg allies were hard pressed about. His partner is Kir, a cyborg who’s closely allied with him and enjoys a bond as close as possible with Laughton.

The basic premise of the story is set in a humans-only preserve in South Carolina which is called SoCar preserve.  Mankind has been given an opportunity to try to live without its AI overlords and things are dicey as it is. When the worst calamity occurs, a murder of a black marketer which inflames tensions between humans who want to live under their own and AIs who don’t trust the humans and of course want them to be under their thumbs. That’s where the story really just takes off and we the readers are thrown right into this crazy, sordid mix.

Right off the bat, I have to say the premise of the story is its biggest selling point and the author gives a riveting plot. The characterization especially the human and the non-human kind is also very strong considering how the story is focused through Laughton and Kir’s eyes. These are the strongest parts of the story. The main plot however is a murder mystery and plays out solidly like one. The book isn’t a big one being about 250-odd pages, however it does a lot of stuff within those 250-odd pages and ends on a climatic note. 

The underlying themes of the story are some of the basic ones that one has come to read or view:
- What makes us human
- What does it mean to be “alive”
- Are carbon and silicon really that far apart on a molecular level
- Are humankind doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past
-      Does the future of mankind become better with AI’s involved in the decision making

This and many such thought provoking questions are very much streamlined into the plot and character arcs. I have to laud the author for being able to give us so pack so much themes and heavy morality in such a thin book.  The pace of the book is also on quicker side and there’s very little sections in which it drags.

Overall for me this story was a very enjoyable one with its scenario and how the murder mystery unfolded. But what prevents it from being as good as the Michael Crichton ones is that the world building is a bit scant. We are told about this premise and shown the world but very little gets explained as to how it all came to be. As a worldbuilding junkie, that was a sore point for me. I’m willing to go along for the ride but I do need to be shown that this scenario isn’t just window dressing. This is where the story could have been developed further at the risk of adding more pages and perhaps slowing down the pace as well. The ending was a bit predictable and a non-gloomy one (which in the year 2020 is very much appreciated). I think that there’s more to this world and the author can definitely develop a series here and thus deepen the world and characters within. Also on a side note, I believe this book is ripe for a limited TV series adaptation as that medium will be able to add the worldbuilding depth as well as add more characters to the overall story. 

CONCLUSION: The Preserve as a SF story gets high points for its brilliant concept. As a murder mystery and with the protagonist duo, it’s a bit more predictable and doesn’t do too much of the ordinary. Is it worth your time, I would yes most certainly. At a slim 250 pages, this SF thriller is one of the better thrillers I’ve read and certainly makes me want to read more of Ariel S. Winter’s future works.



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