Review: A Calculated Life adds up nicely

A Calculated LifeIt’s funny how sometimes science fiction can be the best way to shed light on today’s reality. A Calculated Life, by Anne Charnock, is one of those books that while overtly science fiction is really a great insight into humanity today. It would take very little to see the protagonist, Jayna, as autistic rather than a created intelligence struggling to understand ‘real’ humanity.

Hyper-intelligent Jayna is a star performer at top predictive agency Mayhew McCline, where she forecasts economic and social trends. A brilliant mathematical modeler, she far outshines her co-workers, often correcting their work on the quiet. Her latest coup: finding a link between northeasterly winds and violent crime.

When a string of events contradicts her forecasts, Jayna suspects she needs more data and better intuition. She needs direct interactions with the rest of society. Bravely—and naively—she sets out to disrupt her strict routine and stumbles unwittingly into a world where her IQ is increasingly irrelevant…a place where human relationships and the complexity of life are difficult for her to decode. And as she experiments with taking risks, she crosses the line into corporate intrigue and disloyalty.

Can Jayna confront the question of what it means to live a “normal” life? Or has the possibility of a “normal” life already been eclipsed for everyone?

Charnock has created a subtle environment for her work. Characters range from the completely organic, to those assisted by bionic implants, to the entirely manufactured. I like the way this isn’t a simple ‘us’ and ‘them’ scenario and the way the book gradually introduces the future world. Rather than being thrust into a shocking description of the future, it sneaks up on the reader gradually and is all the more frightening for that. It’s hard not to think that this is how real change comes about – gradually and so you only notice once it’s too late.

Ultimately, though, this book is more about human emotion and intelligence than it is about the future: And it’s that exploration that makes this such a compelling work. Although I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to recommend this on the basis of it being science fiction, I’m happy to recommend it as deftly written and intelligent book that makes for an engaging and thought-provoking read.

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