“Thirty years in the future, when AI is so advanced that humans live side by side with cognizant robots called Artificials, Kestrel Hathaway must come to terms not just with what machines know, but with what they believe.
Soon after experiencing a personal tragedy, Kestrel witnesses a terrorist attack and is drawn into a world of conspiracies and lies that she and Jordan, her Artificial, have to untangle. With a second, more brutal attack looming on the horizon, their best chance of stopping it is teaming up with federal counterterrorism agent Nick Vernon. But the clock is ticking—and all the while, Jordan is asking questions Artificials were never meant to ask.”
The Scoop on Synapse
If machines were cognizant, what would separate us from them?
Thirty years from now, Artificials have become an essential part of society. They serve in almost every sector, from housekeeping to law enforcement. Most humans have accepted the necessity (and convenience) of Artificials. Others, like the Purists, believe that artificial intelligence is the end of humanity.
Reverend Kestrel Hathaway is reeling from the death of her newborn daughter when she receives a call from her estranged brother. Trevor, the chief of security for the leading manufacturer of Artificials, asks her to accept an Artificial as a gift. Though far from a Purist, Kestrel has been wary of Artificials since a defective unit gunned down her parents. Despite her reservations, she accepts her brother’s gift.
On her way home from the hospital, Kestrel witnesses a bombing at the local Artificial plant. She rushes to help, unknowingly putting herself squarely in a federal terrorist investigation.
When Kestrel arrives home, she finds her new Artificial. “Jordan” is unique. Not only is he the latest and greatest model, but he seems to see the world differently than most Artificials. He asks questions that Kestrel doesn’t know how to answer.
Is there really an afterlife? If an Artificial–a cognizant being in its own right–believes in God, can it find redemption?
Meanwhile, counterterrorism agent Nick Vernon investigates the attack at the Artificial plant. He’d like to believe that Kestrel is simply a witness who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, but with Kestrel’s tragic past and her brother’s connection to the plant, she’s a key suspect in his case. With a second–and more deadly–attack looming, Nick must find out what Kestrel knows quickly.
As a scifi geek, I loved the world that Steven James created. It’s so believable, from the automated cars to the civil liberties awarded to Artificials. Naturals (humans without modifications), Plussers (humans with robotic upgrades, like mechanical limbs or enhanced hearing), and Purists all had completely believable responses to this new incredible technology.
Having said that, my favorite aspect of the novel were the philosophical questions Steven James posed. What is the prerequisite of salvation? If a cognizant machine believes in God and asks Jesus for forgiveness, will it receive redemption? What about the long-lasting ramifications of technology? How much is too much? Where does it stop? Kestrel also asks the questions that I think we’ve all asked at some point in our life…why does a loving God allow terrible things to happen?
All that said, I did have trouble connecting with Kestrel. Granted, she’s shell-shocked from the death of her daughter, but her thoughts and dialogue seemed too straight-forward and cold for my tastes.
I also dislike how a few lines in the plot (I can’t mention WHAT without spoiling it) didn’t follow through. Thanks to Steven James’ expert ability to build suspense, I had developed several theories about the main villain’s identity and how Jordan’s spirituality would come into play. Unfortunately, I felt a little disappointed with the ending.
Would I Recommend?
If you’re a Christian and you love sci-fi, Synapse is a must-read. Even if you’re not in to religion, I think Synapse is a suspenseful novel that gives an exciting–if not eerie–glimpse into our own future.
I would recommend this book to readers ages 16+. Even though it doesn’t contain any graphic content or foul language, it does mention violence, death, and explores philosophical themes that may not be a good fit for younger teens.