Plum Rains

An­dromeda Ro­mano-lax

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Soho Press (JUNE) Hard­cover $25.95 (408pp) 978-1-61695-901-2

An­dromeda Ro­mano-lax’s near-fu­ture novel, Plum Rains, gracefully ex­plores eth­i­cal ques­tions around ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence with re­fresh­ing hu­man­ity.

Anji already has wor­ries aplenty when her em­ployer, Itou, sur­prises their house­hold with a pro­to­type ro­bot. Its job is to as­sist Sayoko, Itou’s el­derly mother—also Anji’s job, as her nurse. Ja­pan is already a ten­u­ous place for for­eign­ers to work; Anji wor­ries that she’s about to be eclipsed. Los­ing work would mean be­ing sent home to the Philip­pines; a vi­cious la­bor broker would be the only one to meet her.

Anji has am­ple rea­son to dis­trust the ro­bot, who soon names him­self Hiro and in­gra­ti­ates him­self with Sayoko. Yet Hiro may end up be­ing the key to ev­ery­one’s sal­va­tion. Day by day, he re­veals the cracks in their not nec­es­sar­ily su­pe­rior hu­man emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, prob­ing wounds and air­ing truths that more po­lite ac­quain­tances might seek to avoid.

There are sci­ence fic­tion el­e­ments at play here, even be­yond Hiro: an eco­log­i­cal waste­land known as the BZ, where for­eign work­ers go in des­per­a­tion; ad­vanced med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy; blips in hu­man births that stand in dis­may­ing con­trast to an ever-ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. Yet it’s the fa­mil­iar that holds at­ten­tion: the lone­li­ness of leav­ing home; the un­cer­tainty of be­ing an out­sider in a for­eign land; the fear of ex­pos­ing se­crets; the long­ing for peo­ple long since passed away.

Dis­turb­ing notes from past conflicts arise, in­clud­ing around hu­man traf­fick­ing—a hor­ror all too present for some of the novel’s char­ac­ters. And over and across all of this heart­break lie the ar­ti­fi­cial prom­ises of to­mor­row. Glit­ter­ing fu­turescapes stand tan­ta­liz­ingly out of reach for most. The “tire­less whis­pers of an­gry ghosts” dis­turb the only out­wardly peace­ful wa­ters of the fu­ture.

An­dromeda Ro­mano-lax’s lat­est novel is a gift. Through its beauty and dev­as­ta­tion, its spec­u­la­tion and its cer­tainty, it will force au­di­ences to con­front the truest places within them­selves—the spa­ces where ar­ti­fice will never suf­fice.

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