Science Fiction Book Reviews

Review: The Expert System’s Brother

Complete with masterful world-building and a cast of characters both advanced and arcane in their perceptions of the world, The Expert System’s Brother asks what it means to be human when mysterious forces control human society. The combination of a simple civilization, along with a surprising origin story, makes for an impactful read that asks you to take a side between progress and preservation.

THE EXPERT SYSTEM’S BROTHER

Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor.com, July 2018

5 out of 5 Robots

QUICK SUMMARY

A young boy makes a mistake that disgraces him to his town. After years of trying to live with his mistake, he becomes an outcast fending for himself in a world not made for survival. He stumbles upon a man who gives him a way to a better life, or so it seems. His journey leads him to questions he never thought to ask and answers he can’t comprehend.

This is another book that requires spoilers in order to fully discuss the deeper meaning of the story and my favorite points of the narrative. See my above short review – it’s a great, quick read that has an interesting twist and an engaging plot progression. Trek past the robot for a full discussion.

Spoiler

WHY I LOVED IT

THE VIVID WORLD

This is a lush, densely forested world filled with beautifully horrific creatures. Everything has more legs, eyes and ears than we’d expect, and it’s impossible to accurately imagine what they could look like. I found myself leaning more towards cartoon characters and halloween costumes with extra eyes and limbs. It’s great world-building on the author’s part, all of it seamless within the narrative. I love reading a world where you eventually stop questioning the strange things surrounding a character and accept them as the norm. After all, science fiction is meant to be a trip away from the lives we know, right?

UNEXPECTED TECHNOLOGY

A lot is left to mystery in the technological makeup of this new civilization, but it’s essentially a series of built-in systems meant to help people live in this harsh environment and to advance back to the level humanity had once been at. Amazingly, the systems had an opposite effect and instead created lazy people who stopped thinking for themselves. It’s an example of a technology so good at its job that it leaves people unable to have original thoughts and to expand on the world they know. We see glimmers of people who have figured out how to become better world-builders, but for the most part, people have given in to the ease of following these mysterious spirits that decide their every move. This notion makes you consider how our civilization has changed to rely on things to a somewhat crippling degree.

AN ALTERNATE COLONIZATION STORY

So many colonization stories start from the beginning. We see the domes and the rover trudging across a new planet, with space travelers attempting to plant the seeds for a future on an unknown planet. They have the technology, they have the means, and often they have a connection to the world they came from. The Expert System’s Brother goes hundreds of years into the future of a colony that forgot where it came from and reverted back to a hunter-gatherer society that centers around a religious system fueled by ghosts nobody understands.

There is no advanced technology here – it’s all been forgotten and abandoned for simple villages with simple power structures. A simple trip to a nearby village is an epic journey to these communities. Space travel isn’t conceivable anymore, and there are no records or histories to consult. It’s a fascinating notion, that humanity could revert back to our origins as a result of extreme technological advancement that allows us to travel through space.

THE FREAKY CULT

Through the main character’s savior (of sorts), we see the foundation upon which this world was built. He sees the mysterious ghosts that inhabit the village leaders for what they really are and seeks to destroy them and to bring people back to the way they are supposed to be. The guy believes that those who have been outcast and can no longer survive in the planet’s environment are the true humans. Amazingly, he easily convinces those around him to follow his path as the true path, and as a reader, you start to agree with him before you realize he’s batshit crazy and just wants things to go back to the way they were.

BATTLING WAYS OF LIFE

This is the big dilemma of The Expert System’s Brother. What exactly is progress and what is the correct way to live? While this civilization has forgotten its roots and has essentially allowed the technology from their forefathers to rule them, they are still living comfortably in their villages, peacefully communicating with one another. Their expulsion system is a bit barbaric, but it’s their form of law and it keeps the community harmonious.

On the other hand, you have this religious zealot who wants to force everyone out of this way of life and back to their original human forms, leaving them unable to eat any of the planet’s food or survive amongst the flora and fauna. While this would take them back to their original genetic makeup, it would be a death sentence for the civilization. They would no longer be stymied by these technological systems that seem to control them, but they’d have no real means to survive.

It’s a question of the definition of survival. Is simply adapting to a planet’s food sources and environment enough, even though technological advancement is no longer a priority? Or does survival mean abandoning that which makes us comfortable in order to advance technologically? It might seem like an easy answer, but don’t be so sure.

CONCEPTS

Civilization, World-Building, Colonization, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Technology, Space Travel

WHERE TO BUY

Barnes & Noble
Amazon

CITATION

Tchaikovsky, Adrian. The Expert System’s Brother. Tor.com, 2018.

Interested in more books like The Expert System’s Brother? Check out our book reviews here.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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