Something is amiss in the renegade digital realm of Reality 36. Richards—a Level 5 AI with a PI fetish—and his partner, a decommissioned German military cyborg, are on the trail of a murderer, but the killer has hidden inside an artificial reality. Richards and Klein must stop him before he becomes a god - for the good of all the realms.
Reality 36 is a thrilling mystery novel set in a world run by Artificial Intelligence. Richards, a self-aware AI and his partner Otto Klein, a German decommissioned cyborg are approached by EuPol Five to investigate a case most peculiar, the apparent deaths of one of the world’s most renowned AI scientist, Zhang Qifang. That’s right, the good professor has somehow managed to die twice. Things get stranger as the duo probes deeper into the mystery of the deaths and soon they unravel a massive cover-up that would shatter both the physical and virtual world.
Sure there are plenty of action and humour in this book. The banter between Richards and Hughie comes to mind. However what makes the story exceptional is Haley’s vision of the future and the thought provoking questions he asks.
The title, Reality 36 is actually a collection of 36 virtual realms that used to be the playing ground of people. The world’s governments have ruled that the self-aware artificial intelligence within these realms can be considered as real life forms and humans should be trialed as they are in real-life for committing any acts of murders in these realms. The governments have also ruled that if intelligent agents like Richards and his kin are to have the same rights as humans, they should be bound by the same laws. This means they have to exist as a singular identity and no form of duplication of themselves are allowed. So, is AI life and do these entities have souls? These are some great questions to ask the future generation of scientists as our world grow more reliant on intelligent agents to do our work.
Despite the excellent vision of the future, there are some problems that I have with this novel. One, the story just took too long to get started. The first third of the book was used to introduce Richards, Klein and Veronique Valdaire and what their lives are like before the main events of the story kicked in. While it’s interesting to know that Richards is tracking down a human trafficker, this little subplot isn’t related to the whole scheme of things. Second, the subtitle, A Richards and Klein novel indicates that Reality 36 is perhaps a standalone story in a series of novels like the Sherlock Holmes stories. It really threw me off to find out the book ends in a cliffhanger! There’s nothing wrong with cliffhangers but maybe I feel cheated because of the misleading subtitle.
On the whole, I think the good points outweigh the bad and that there should be more Science Fiction writers like Haley who asks these thought provoking questions on what it means to be alive.
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