On one level a meditation on sentience and consciousness, on another a story of exploration and adventure on a water-world, Shaman Machine the Mentor contains some beautifully-written and insightful passages: “A commotion of scraping chairs opened a slim gap of welcome.”; or, “I grew up in a house filled with chaos,” he replied. “I was crowded out by indifference. There was no room for a child in there.”
Both these passages occur in the first third of the book, where the writing is noticeably stronger than the rest of the narrative. After a promising beginning, introducing us to the robot Chance, the wandering free spirit Ziggy, and the contained city in which Ziggy tries to find some semblance of freedom, the story extends outward to encompass another group of characters, and then another, and a different world. In this widening of the scope and themes, the story loses its centre. The core characters in the next two-thirds of the book, the troubled architect Alex and the bot Chance, are trying understand each other and their worlds. Alex uses shamanic drugs and alcohol to try to still his critical, sarcastic mind but refuses to accept a different reality when it’s presented to him. Chance uses its programming and its capability to learn from conversation to expand and encompass the new experiences presented to it. The machine appears to be master to the man.
There’s a good novel in Shaman Machine the Mentor. The book would have benefited from a developmental editor who could have guided the author towards a tighter and more focused narrative. As it stands now, there are too many events that don’t seem to really add to the story and an almost scatter-gun approach to events which the reader then needs to tie together. Some of the technology as proposed was fascinating but not fully fleshed out: the use of sound-clips from a new world to create interwoven agglomerations of spheres as the building blocks for a new city on that world, for example, should have been more important than it was, given the world’s reaction to that city. I wanted to know why the sentient beings of this world reacted as they did to a city based on their own ambient sounds, and how (if) that technology was used as they moved forward. And while the ending is ultimately beautiful and appropriate, it is reached as an epilogue.
But regardless of its flaws, both the structural ones I have discussed and its need for a copy-editor to weed out inappropriate commas and semi-colons, and the very occasional mis-used word, I find myself contemplating the themes of, and questions raised in, Shaman Machine the Mentor well after I finished the book. They are not superficial questions, but ones that ask us to think about the meaning of ‘humanity’. Overall, 3 stars.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.