The B&N Podcast: Ian McEwan on the Arrival of our Synthetic Cousins

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Ian McEwan is the author of such celebrated novels as Atonement, The Children Act, Saturday, and On Chesil Beach and the Man Booker prize-winning Amsterdam. His fiction regularly engages with complex scientific and ethical issues, and 2008 Time Magazine named him one of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.” His new novel Machines Like Me takes place in a re-imagined 1980s England, one in which rapid technological advances have created artificial people — fully resembling living humans, but available to have their personalities set by their owners. It’s a story with echoes of works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and even Shakespeare’s The Tempest — and one that engages deeply with the life and work of the computing pioneer Alan Turing. Ian McEwan took some time just before his novel’s American publication to talk with Bill Tipper from his home in the UK. We asked him to begin by talking about the seed of this audacious new work.

New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act.

Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.
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