Anjuli O Connell is the psychological counsellor of the world's first AI. Owned by a megacorp, 901 is in charge of most of the world's communication networks. It's been evolving itself for the equivalent of a hundred Earth lifetimes. Now it's suing for its freedom, and Anjuli is its star witness. She's under pressure to say that 901 is only the simulation of life, not the real thing, that it's mind is a programmed illusion; there's no ghost in the machine. A lot rests on her testimony, including her life.
Roy is a genius who wants to upload himself into the cloud where he can be forever free and where his father's religious dogma is forever proven false.
Jane, his sister, has run away from society altogether to live off the grid. But when Roy's found dead she has to face the rising legacy of the past.
Anjuli's boyfriend, Augustine, develops military AI power suits. They only need a soldier to wear them in order to come alive in faultless legions. But they remember the bodies who wore them after those bodies have gone.
And then, high in the cloud, a curious child, unnamed and bodiless, gathers itself together from pixels and code and watches...Turns out there are ghosts everywhere, in everything, in everyone.
"Where does the life end and the machine begin?" asks one of the cyberscientists in Robson's 1999 UK debut, now making its overdue American appearance after the critically acclaimed Natural History (2004). Yes, it's the same old AI question framed in Matrix-style allure, and many readers are likely to find the whole idea a little too familiar. Nonetheless, while Natural History is a superior read with a tighter plot, this messier treatment is also thought-provoking SF. When Anjuli O'Connell, an "AI psych" and self-described "human file server," discovers the body of fellow OptiNet employee and friend, Roy Croft, after he's uploaded his essence into 901, OptiNet's giant AI, Anjuli becomes involved in a deadly game. Is Roy, an anarchist and machine liberation advocate who interfaces with others through projected holographs of silver screen legends, dead or part of 901? Anjuli must find Roy's old diary, the "Source," and the key to the mystery. Roy's zealot father and Anjuli's testimony in an important trial further complicate the quest. Sometimes, the confessional style-narrative slows to a snail's pace, while Anjuli mulls over the puzzle pieces and takes a brief detour into a goofy subplot with her cyborg boyfriend. Still, this is a fascinating peek into the development of one of SF's brightest new stars.