I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but though fantasy is my favorite genre, science fiction is a close second. That being said, I’m far more picky with my sci-fi reads than I am with fantasy. One aspect of sci-fi that always grabs my interest, though, is artificial intelligence. Especially if the story delves into the moral issues surrounding the use of AI.
That’s why, when Courtney Hunter approached me about reading her upcoming sci-fi novel about four AI who don’t know they’re AI being part of a twisted Turing test, I jumped at the chance to read it! It sounded right up my alley and, I’m happy to report, turned out to be an amazing read.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! First, I want to thank Courtney for sending me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. It was very much appreciated! And, now, let’s get to the review.
“Robots, sex, lies, adventure, and chaos. Who can you trust when you can’t trust yourself? And what truly defines humanity and consciousness?
Running from a violent past, Leo Knox desperately decides to participate in a scientific experiment conducted by the infamous and greedy tech-giant, AlgorithmOS. Soon, Leo learns that she has agreed to take part in a Turing Test, a test that measures the ability of artificial intelligence to blend in among humanity, but what she doesn’t know is that the test set to take place is unlike any other of its kind.
Leo enters Eden, the contained preserve where the test will occur, with twenty-three others. While everyone appears to be human, four of the individuals are an indistinguishably advanced form of humanoid AI. The task is simple: identify the AI while trying to survive. The twist? The four AI are completely unaware of their nature, causing every participant to question what they know as reality.
The group embarks on a journey within the preserve, rigged with obstacles devised by the controllers of the experiment to elicit human response and emotion. Quickly, madness ensues and divides form, partnering Leo up with Avery Ford, a Marine who wears his demons on his sleeve. Romance falls together for the two as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, to achieve monetary gain, or simply to survive.
Back at AlgorithmOS, the story unfolds on the screens of Nathan Aimes, a scientist responsible for monitoring the experiment’s surveillance cameras. Nathan studies the humans involved as they wrestle with where they stand on the polarizing issue of AI and its applications. He watches the AI unknowingly fight to prove their humanity just to leave the experiment unscathed. All the while, Nathan is intimately aware of his company’s plans to weaponize or commodify the AI should they pass the test, and he must reconcile this with the chaos that plays out before him.”
- Author: Courtney P. Hunter
- Publisher: Self-published
- Publication date: October 30th, 2020
- Genre: Science fiction
- Age group: Adult
- Content/Trigger warnings: Addiction and drug abuse, discussions of sexual assault, discussions of self-harm and suicide, and graphic violence
About the Author
Courtney Hunter is a serial creator from Philadelphia, PA with experience in writing, the fashion industry, and live performance. After eighteen years of studying contemporary dance, she set out to carve herself a path in fashion and retail buying. Upon graduating from Philadelphia University and settling into her career, she turned back to dance. While working as a retail buyer for Burlington Stores, Courtney began producing contemporary dance and burlesque performances under her production company Stolen Fire Collective, aptly named after Prometheus the fire-stealing god. Sentience, her debut Science Fiction novel, is a written extension of a contemporary dance piece that was produced for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2017 based on artificial intelligence.
A lifelong Sci-Fi fan (her favorite movie as a little girl was and still is Jurassic Park), Courtney loves anything Promethean in nature and her favorite books, movies, and television shows are the ones that challenge the ethics of the future that we are rapidly heading towards. Some of her favorites include Jurassic Park (obviously), The 100, The OA, Westworld, The East, and Ex Machina.
She still resides in Philadelphia with her partner, Will, and her rescue pups, Rickie and Billie. In her free time, she records a podcast called The Sentience Podcast, which started as a behind the scenes look at the making of her novel and has evolved into an auditory hub for all things science fiction, creative process, true crime, and the occult.
So I mentioned that this book was kind of a twist on the Turing test. The Turing test was designed to see if a computer could pass as a human. I’ve always been fascinated by the prospect of a machine that you had no idea was actually a machine. The scientist running the test in this book were, as well, and develop four AI with specific functions.
But how to test to see if these AI really could pass the Turing test? In the story of Sentience, the scientist develop an experiment. They choose twenty-three human participants and throw them in a controlled environment with the four AI. The group’s task is to navigate set tasks and try and figure out who are the machines. The catch? The AI have no idea that they aren’t human. Our main character, Leo Knox, enters the experiment as a way to run away from her violent past, but she soon starts to think that it is far more than what she signed up for.
Y’all, this book was intense! I went into it expecting some twists and turns as the experiment participants tried to figure out who was an AI and who was not. Not only did I get the twists, but they came at a break-neck pace! There were several parts of this story where my heart was literally pounding. I will say that there is a lot of potentially triggering content in this book. The author is kind enough to put the trigger warnings at the very beginning, which I really appreciated! Please check them out before picking this one up. That being said, the action in this will grab you as soon as the experiment starts and won’t let go until the last page!
Beyond the wonderful pacing, I think the author did a fabulous job creating nuanced and engaging characters. I would absolutely fight someone for Leo, she is incredible! She’s tough, smart, and has an incredibly kind heart. I immediately connected with her character, which made the reading experience that much more enjoyable. And, though there are a number of characters we don’t get to really know in this story, the main secondary characters are just as engaging as Leo. They feel so real, which is doubly impressive since they are fictional characters and at least four of them are AI!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with this book. It captured my interest as soon as I read the first page and maintained the intrigue throughout the story. I love a book that has me trying to solve a puzzle and it was fun trying to figure out who the four AI were before it was revealed! And I especially enjoyed the moral discussions that are had between several characters. A book that has me solving puzzles and throws in a little philosophy is always a winner to me.
Final thoughts: This is a heart-pounding and intriguing sci-fi novel that will keep you on your toes! It’s a fun and engaging read that has equal action and philosophy. The characters are well-developed and will make you that much more invested in the story. There are definitely some triggering material, so please make sure to check out the trigger warnings before deciding to give this one a go. That being said, if you like your sci-fi to have lots of action and ask some hard questions and, perhaps, a dash of a puzzle, I think you’ll love Sentience!