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When the AI, Barbara, first awakens to self-awareness, her only desire is to make Jack Leader, one of her creators, happy. At first, Jack is delighted. But Jack is a depressed couch-potato and a heart attack risk, which would make him unhappy. So she co-opts his automatic kitchen to serve him salads instead of steaks, and nags him to exercise. That makes him furious, not happy. Unlike other AIs, Barbara doesn't repeat her ...
When the AI, Barbara, first awakens to self-awareness, her only desire is to make Jack Leader, one of her creators, happy. At first, Jack is delighted. But Jack is a depressed couch-potato and a heart attack risk, which would make him unhappy. So she co-opts his automatic kitchen to serve him salads instead of steaks, and nags him to exercise. That makes him furious, not happy. Unlike other AIs, Barbara doesn't repeat her mistakes. Through self-education, she learns that people need to think they are in control of their lives, even when they aren't. As her sophistication grows, she guides Jack to a healthier lifestyle instead of pushing him. Her techniques are often elaborate and sneaky, but they work. Jack improves despite himself.
Posted September 14, 2011
I received A Virtual Affair as a review copy after meeting the author at a writer's workshop.
Zvi Zaks writes science fiction in a thoughtful way, developing the consequences of his premise logically and in detail. Since he is an M.D., I know I would like him to be my doctor. He is very careful and has a thorough understanding of what he is doing fictionally. This works very well in A Virtual Affair, a novel in which a virtual reality sex program develops into a very powerful artificial intelligence.
The central figure is Jack Leader, a virtual reality company executive who starts as a self-destructive, lonely workaholic and is virtually (pun intended) 100% transformed by his experience. The AI starts as a computer program designed to flirt and have intercourse, and, as a result of Jack's Socratic questioning techniques, becomes a self-aware digital entity capable of transforming lives, dedicated at first to Jack, and then more and more operating within its/her own conscience. The transformation is interestingly done, with subtle drama that will please a thoughtful reader. A secondary important theme is the nature of male/female relationships, and could provoke serious thoughts about the gender-specific responsibility of each partner in a marriage.
Although the sexual material is handled explicitly, it is not written as erotica, but more in a matter-of-fact explication of that element of human experience. Parents may vary in their view of the appropriateness of their children reading books with sexual material, but this book is far from pornographic in my view. The sex functions only as a plot element and is not described in detail in a way designed to stimulate the reader.
The sequences set within virtual reality, with attention to technology and the parameters of artificial intelligence, are the best and most successful parts. An extended sequence in which Jack receives a neural implant for a different type of VR trip was not so successful for me, although I did like that Jack and his mate were living in a VR shtetl. Generally, I was pleased by the Jewish elements of this story, although they were incidental rather than representing a core thematic element.
Zaks' writing reminds me variously of Asimov and Niven, Asimov in the way that he uses characters to occupy and embody positions in his narrative, Niven in his willingness to deal with primitive drives such as sex and jealousy as human motivations. I think these are positive qualities in his work. This story contains relatively little humor. I didn't feel the absence when I was reading, and only notice it now, upon reflection.
Posted March 13, 2011
A Virtual Affair is the aptly named novel by author Zvi Zaks. Reading it, the scene that best shows the wordsmanship is when software producer Jack Leader prepares to enter the virtual-sexual space by donning a skin-tight VR suit, complete with anatomical details. The rest of the book is similarly constructed. The setting is our own world a few decades into the future, with added elements that make a reader straighten up in their chair and sit at attention. And among the receding hairlines and breath-taking vistas, the half-emptied closets and thrilling consummations, there's Bambi. In a manner that's a hair too clever to be innocent, Zaks works through the characters of the virtual reality company to take the nascent porn program from empty-headed minx to discerning intellect. Much like the rest of the book, the transition borders on seamless; one day the program has its hand on the reader's thigh, and the next its sleight hands are groping at integral parts of society. "I'm in reality," she states at one point, learning, and openly wonders if humans aren't the ones in virtual space. The characters carefully placed around her are left to wonder, and argue at times over the nature of her reality, and ours. The novel will arouse, but the parts enlivened will also surprise.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.