Machines Like Me: A Novel

by Ian McEwan

Hardcover, 2019

Call number




Nan A. Talese (2019), Edition: 1st Edition, 352 pages


"Machines Like Me occurs in an alternative 1980s London. Britain has lost the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power, and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. In a world not quite like this one, two lovers will be tested beyond their understanding. 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 batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda's assistance, he co-designs Adam's personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong, and clever--a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma. Ian McEwan's subversive and entertaining new novel poses fundamental questions: What makes us human? Our outward deeds or our inner lives? Could a machine understand the human heart? This provocative and thrilling tale warns against the power to invent things beyond our control"--… (more)

Media reviews

McEwan thinks his literary novel about A.I. is superior to a genre that surpassed him long ago.... If McEwan had read some of the genre’s best treatments of this theme, Machines Like Me might have been a better book....the novel is larded with long, tedious passages of potted history.... he
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could start this lazy, flimsy novel over, only this time with the humility to learn from those who have boldly gone before
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1 more
There is a Cassandra tendency in McEwan’s fiction. His domestic dramas routinely play out against a backdrop of threatened doom. Since the portent-laden meditation on war and terrorism, Saturday, in 2005, he has also turned his gimlet attention to climate change in Solar. The opening lines of
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that novel – “He was running out of time. Everyone was, it was the general condition…” – have sometimes sounded like his fiction’s statement of intent. The New Yorker called his work “the art of unease”. It was ... therefore only a matter of time before he got around to the looming ethical anxieties of artificial intelligence.... McEwan has an abiding faith that novels are the best place to examine such ethical dilemmas, though he has little time for conventional science fiction.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member BDartnall
"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
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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 forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma. "- inside flyleaf
Leave it to the master storyteller, McEwan, to make the not quite possible, possible and believable. As always, his exquisite word choice and use of just enough detail, and his knack for making us identify with his characters, even when their flaws and questionable choices create a sense of foreboding. One of the most original sci-fi books I've read in some time on AI and in an "alternative" 1980s setting to boot - amazing.
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LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
The topic is too worn out in my recent reading to seem novel. I didn't think the alternate history added much.
LibraryThing member kayanelson
Ian McEwan has a brilliant mind. I must admit I wasn't sure about reading this book from the description but, since I've read all of his books since Amsterdam I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did. Such a unique plot, such beautiful writing. Then just when you think that maybe it's becoming
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too ordinary of a story, something happens to pull you in again. Besides having such a unique wonderful plot and beautiful writing, the book makes you think and also refreshes some mid-20th century historical events. Definitely read.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
Having been awestruck by McEwan's "Nutshell" a year earlier, I eagerly picked up "Machines Like Me." The premise sounded fascinating: "a cautionary fable about artificial intelligence." To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I almost stopped reading a third of the way into the book —
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until I spotted a LibraryThing review that suggested the work improves in the second half. I finally gave up two-thirds of the way through. I simply didn't care about any of the characters. Part of the problem is red-flagged in a review posted on that mentions "long-winded speeches." After the fourth of fifth soliloquy, it was pretty much over for me. Unlike review which concluded that McEwan's work offers "many pleasures," I found "Machines Like Me" a drag. McEwan's masterful writing merits a couple stars. But this tale simply didn't grab me in any way.
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LibraryThing member waldhaus1
A surprising journey into an alternate universe with insights into what it means to be human

What does it mean to be human, can artificial intelligence create art now or ever? Saving Turing from his fate in our universe and version of history and changing events while leaving so many characters in
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place brings in a wry commentary about what it means to be human. If art is craft and machines are built by craft and become able to replicate themselves are they producing art - and is their version of fine art going to be about something else - a communication about what it means to be a machine as our fine art is a communication about what it means to be human.
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LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
After I read the first chapter of this novel, I thought this might be the best sci-fi novel I've read in years. It....was not.

The idea is fantastic and compelling, but it gets constantly bogged down in endless paragraphs about the political shenanigans of the alternate-history London McEwan has
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created for his characters. I skimmed pages and pages, trying to get to the meat of the story I actually cared about.

About a 2.5, for me.
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LibraryThing member Opinionated
Ooh, there's a lot going on here. At one level, this is a cautionary morality play about Artificial Intelligence, but it also continues McEwan's long interest in the welfare and development of the child (as explored most recently in The Children Act, but present in many of his earlier works too)
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and counter-factual histories (such as in Atonement or The Innocent). So in control of his craft is he, that he can pack all of these themes into a relatively short book.

Charlie is a former unsuccessful white collar criminal, living precariously from playing the markets, whilst lusting after Miranda, the much younger girl in the upstairs flat, who has secrets of her own. Having always had an interest in electronics and having written a book on Artificial Intelligence, when he inherits some money he spends it buying Adam, one of the first wave of manufactured humans. Adam has intelligence and the looks and motions to pass for human in the world, he is far more than a robot, he is a manufactured person. Whether or not he has a consciousness, or whether he has a mind as well as an intelligence, is the main narrative of the book.'

As a token of love to Miranda, Charlie allows her to set half the preferences for his "character"; in this way they become effectively Adam's co-parents, and their romantic relationship soon follows.

Adam is in most ways of course a child. He has the body of an adult - a good looking adult too, and the perfect lover, as Miranda wastes little time ascertaining, with an intelligence and learning capabilities any adult would envy. But he lacks a childhood, and the developmental experiences of a child in forming his character, and so is not an adult human. What do his expressions of love for Miranda, supported by juvenile haikkus, actually mean emotionally? By contrast, Charlie and Miranda find themselves (through a slightly convoluted plot device) becoming increasing responsible for Mark, an actual child, abandoned by his parents who they foster with an eye to later adoption. Mark expresses love for Miranda; so does Adam. So indeed does Charlie. In Charlie's tiny, cramped flat, this emotional quadrangle plays out. It would be a spoiler to go into much further detail, but Its to be hoped that Charlie and Miranda prove to be better parents to Mark, than they are to Adam

The main plot hangs around decisions that Adam makes that cause a crisis for Charlie, Miranda and Mark. These choices are in many ways logical, and unquestionably moral, but they would not be the same decisions a human would make. This,McEwan seems to suggest is the threat of non human intelligence. Not that it will in some way "take over" but that it will process information differently and come to different conclusions. This is the lesson of the AlphaGo victory over a human grandmaster at Go (an example discussed by the narrator). Whereas for a computer to win at Chess is essentially a maths problem (there are a limited number of moves possible at any stage - the computer just has to process which is best) to win at Go is an intelligence problem - the possible moves are limitless and intelligent strategy is required. AlphaGo taught itself the game, with no reference to human knowledge, and made moves that a human never would, that were none the less effective. In an AI driven future, McEwan suggests, this will happen all the time. "Correct" answers calculated in a completely different way

This is the morality question at the heart of the AI debate, and at the heart of the book. How can you teach a manufactured human to act as a human? Without a childhood.

As such this is a great narrative, more interesting that I probably, in the interests of not having spoilers, have made it sound.

Where I have some problems is with the timeline. Because this is not set in the future, or the present day, but in 1980s Britain. A slightly different 1980s Britain with not just mobile phones, and the Internet, but autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence. And I am not sure why this is necessary. I am even less sure why Alan Turing needs to be alive, and a character in the book as the father of Artificial Intelligence and much else (no reason why not I suppose - but why?). Other counterfactuals include Turing's collaboration with Demis Hassabis (who would have been a child in the 1980s), the reformation of The Beatles, Britain losing the Falklands War, Tony Benn as Prime Minister, and the list goes on. There is nothing wrong with such playfulness of course - and as McEwan himself rightly says on p64, "The present is the frailest of improbable constructs, any part of it, all of it, could have been different" . True enough - but it can be jarring, and I am not sure what structural purposes it serves

But if you can forget the occasional jarring, this is a very rewarding, and very well researched book. There's plenty to get out of it, because there's so much going on
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
Ian McEwan's latest deals with Artificial Intelligence, morality, and host of other issues. The premise surrounds Charlie a day trader with a slight criminal past who takes his inheritance and uses it for Adam one of the initial productions of 24 human like robots. Together with Miranda his 22 year
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old potential girl friend, they co-program Adam and sort of co-parent him. For whatever reason McEwan sets the story in Britain in 1982 but it is a revisionist Britain that is more technologically advanced than we are in 2019. He changes history around(the Beatle are still together, Jimmy Carter won a 2nd term, Britain lost the Falklands war). I thought this background made for a more entertaining twist. The novel does a great job of dealing with lots of different big issues, related to morality, ethics, and most importantly how we will evolve as a civilization as Artificial Intelligence takes a more prominent role in society. A key issue will be the difference between how AI decisions differ from humans. The results can produce outcomes we many not have anticipated and not necessarily good ones. The book deals with this and is a very worthwhile read. I have come to McEwan's work in recent years and I try to read anything new that he writes.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Machines Like Me is Ian McEwan’s cautionary tale about a future that we just may not be ready for when it finally arrives. Synthetic humans (robots) are coming and they may be far smarter than we are when they get here. That may not sound like much of a problem, but what happens when the robots
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figure that out and become bored with us and our human limitations. Will they have the patience to put up with us or will they decide to take over for our own good?

McEwan ventures into the alternate history genre here to explore some of the what-ifs of the accelerating pace at which we are introducing artificial intelligence and robotics into our everyday world. The novel is set in a 1980s version of the world very different from the one recorded by the history books. Margaret Thatcher is driven from office in disgrace after badly losing the Falklands War; John Lennon is alive and well and the Beatles are still a band; and the Brighton hotel bombing this time does manage to kill a British prime minister (Thatcher’s successor). Oh, and Jimmy Carter wins a second term, John Kennedy survives his trip to Dallas, and novelist Joseph Heller finds fame with a book he titles Catch-18. You get the idea.

Charlie Friend, thirty-two years old and single, takes great pride in the fact that he doesn’t have to answer to any boss. Charlie lives alone in a London apartment where he sits in front of his computer all day long buying and selling stocks, earning just enough to cover his day-to-day needs. He is not the most ambitious guy in the world, and when he learns that what he earns from day-trading stocks is just below the wage of the average Londoner, Charlie is proud that he is doing that well without having to answer to anyone. He is not the type to worry much about his future. Now, though, Charlie is falling in love with Miranda, the student who lives in the flat above his - even though she does not seem to feel the same way about him. But after blowing all the money his recently deceased mother left him on one of the world’s first synthetic humans, Charlie may have just stumbled onto a way of binding Miranda to him. He lets her help him design the personality of Adam, the near-perfect physical specimen who will now be sharing Charlie’s flat.

Miranda, as it turns out, has secrets of her own, secrets that she can’t hide from someone like Adam who never sleeps and spends all of his spare time researching and learning about the world into which he has so suddenly been thrust. And after Adam warns Charlie that Miranda is not really who she seems to be, things begin to get tricky – especially after Adam declares his own love for Miranda.

Machines Like Me explores whether or not artificial intelligence can ever understand human emotions, motivations, and reasoning. Will it be possible for such a created consciousness to grow beyond the black and white rules it has initially been designed to follow? And if not, how will the inevitable conflict be resolved? What is to be done when our synthetic humans decide that they know what’s good for us better than we do. Which of us crosses the line first?

This quote (page 370 of the Large Print edition) should give all of us, researchers included, something to think about: “They couldn’t understand us, because we couldn’t understand ourselves. Their learning programs couldn’t accommodate us. If we didn’t know our own minds, how could we design theirs and expect them to be happy alongside us?”

Bottom Line: Machines Like Me is a bit frustrating at times because of the long, detailed digressions that McEwan strays into that do not always do much to advance the “discussion” of the potential conflict between artificial intelligence and human intelligence - but the patient reader will be well rewarded for his patience. I suppose that Machines Like Me will be most easily appreciated by science fiction and alternate reality fans, but it is a thought provoking philosophical novel as well.
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LibraryThing member Guide2
Couldn't finish this one. The idea of the fate of Turing changing the timeline is interesting, but the main story just did not seem worth investing the time to read it.
LibraryThing member jgoodwll
Interesting science fiction yarn of almost fully human robots in the 1980s, interspersed with love story and slightly altered history. Worth reading.
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
This took me a while to start reading, because I made the mistake of looking up all the negative reviews first. And yes, this is a bad sci-fi novel, and a jumbled work of fiction in general, but honestly, the worst part for me was the narrator, Charlie Friend (or Humbert Humbert, as I started
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calling him, creepy old nonce that he is). The story is fairly easy to get through.

Set, randomly, in an alternate version of the 1980s, presumably so that the author can safely rant about politics while also dropping in cliched technological advances like artificial intelligence, a nonentity called Charlie, living in a flat in London beneath a younger nonentity called Miranda on whom he has a crush, buys a 'synthetic human' called Adam. And - that's the story, really. Adam is the best character in the book. Charlie is the type of bland middle-aged man - although he's only 32 - who thinks that drinking wine makes him sophisticated and calls shagging the girl in the flat upstairs 'making love', because 'getting his end away' would make him sound shallow. Miranda, the emotionally stunted student who is ten years Charlie's junior yet somehow - author insert alert! - falls in love with him anyway, is supposed to be some sort of sympathetic womanly enigma - she has a secret! - but the only depth of character she gains is a nasty streak of vindictiveness. I wasn't convinced that Charlie and Miranda were in love, or that their needs mattered more than Adam's. And the ridiculous subplots of Miranda's secret and the little boy that she wants to adopt just made me like the 'humans' even less. Perhaps that's the point - I hope so, Mr McEwan!

Anyway, Adam. One of a batch of twenty five androids named Adam and Eve - that's the level of originality we're dealing with - created by an Alan Turing who doesn't kill himself but lives into old age, this Adam has the misfortune to be purchased by Charlie and programmed by both Charlie and Miranda, yet he's still awesome. Intelligent, perceptive, poetic (gotta love those haikus), and not about to take any shit from his 'owner' - when Charlie makes a habit of switching Adam off, Adam breaks Charlie's wrist and threatens him: 'I mean it when I say how sorry I am I broke a bit of you last night. I promise it will never happen again. But the next time you reach for my kill switch, I'm more than happy to remove your arm entirely, at the ball and socket joint'. I laughed, I have to admit. Charlie and Miranda's lives are so small and pathetic, and Adam is so brilliant, that I kind of wanted him to follow through on his threat and worse. But when Adam's implacable logic serves Miranda the justice she's so fond of meting out to others, the two bottom feeders go after Adam again!

The plot is rambling and cliched, padded with political rants and what McEwan must have thought was his clever reinvention of the 80s - the Falklands War and a lot of lives are lost, the prime minister is killed at Brighton, etc - and the narrator is so boring that Miranda's father thinks he's the machine (another laugh), but I enjoyed reading about Adam and how his 'brothers and sisters' are so depressed by humanity that they are systematically killing themselves. I couldn't have cared less about Miranda, and didn't believe for a second that a 23 year old student would want to adopt a random child, even less that her application would be seriously considered. I think the author is of the view that all women make natural mothers, and some latent maternal instinct will kick in when faced with a grubby toddler who has the unfortunate name of Mark. But then, he also seems to think that Charlie Friend would attract said 23 year old just because they live in the same building, whereas she would be more likely to laugh in his face and then move out. Although their rationale that 'the end justifies the means' is bitter evidence that they deserve each other.

Intriguing and infuriating - could have been far better, if told from Adam's perspective!
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LibraryThing member adzebill
Feels like an actual science fiction novel, rather than a literary author slumming it in genre (I see you, Kazuo Ishiguro).
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I remember as a teenager reading about Ian McEwan, who was being cited as one of the leading lights in a glittering new cohort of young British writers – ‘ones to look out for over the next few years’. It was, therefore, a chilling reminder of my own advance down the tale of years when I read
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last year that he had now turned seventy, a milestone marked by the publication of his story, My Purple Scented Novel.

Age does not seem to weary him, however, nor the years condemn, as his latest novel is as brimming with ideas as any of its predecessors. One mark of his dexterity as a writer has been his ability to straddle literary genres, and while some of his contemporaries might have been content to offer up new iterations of formerly successful themes, McEwan has continued to experiment. His previous novel, Nutshell, was narrated by an alarmingly sentient embryo slowly developing in the womb, and took the form of a recasting of the Hamlet plot. Sweet Tooth took us to the world of counterintelligence, with a delicious twist in the tale, while, bizarrely, Solar even secured the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing. (One does have to wonder whether that decision constituted an act of comedy in itself – Solar was certainly a fine novel, and one that was amusing in parts, but I defy anyone to maintain that it was side-splitting or uproarious.)

In this latest novel he is once again straying into unfamiliar territory, combining an exploration of the world of artificial intelligence with the construction of an infinitely plausible alternative history. The novel is set in London in 1982, but a very different world to the one that I remember. While Margaret Thatcher is still Prime Minister, she is reeling from the crushing and humiliating defeat of the Task Force that she had despatched to counter Argentina’s invasion of the territory formerly known as the Falkland Islands. The Opposition is led by Tony Benn, and Jimmy Carter is halfway through his second term as President of the United States. Alan Turing is still alive, and has been knighted in recognition of his contribution to Britain’s victory in the Second World War, but also for his work in developing artificial intelligence, and for the host of advances that he has facilitated in the world of computers. The internet is already highly developed, and there is growing concern among trade unions about the serious threat to employment caused by the widespread use of robots to undertake a range of repetitive tasks.

Charlie Friend is living in a small rented flat in Clapham, and has just used the legacy from his recently dead mother to buy Adam, one of a batch of twenty-five androids (twelve males, called Adam, and thirteen Eves) that have just been released on to the market. They are designed to be highly lifelike and largely autonomous, capable of undertaking a range of household tasks, as offering companionship. They are internet-enabled, and have been designed to learn through a combination of observing and imitating human activity, and learning from the web. Charlie has some experience of artificial intelligence, having written a book about the subject a few years ago, and he is keen to see how far Adam’s capacity to learn can be pushed. Adam’s arrival also serves to cement Charlie’s relationship with his neighbour, Miranda, a postgraduate student living in the flat upstairs.

McEwan writes with a deep plausibility. His alternative history is key as a background to the plot, but he paints it in very light strokes. For example, the politics of the day, which see Mrs Thatcher wavering in power against a resurgent Labour party led by Tony Benn (whose leadership of the party reflects many of the characteristics of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to prominence, on the crest of a surge of younger voters who have flocked to the party, drawn by his palette of ambitious and inclusive policies) remain in the background, captured by fleeting references rather than sustained narrative.

His depiction of Adam’s development is also chilling. Once ‘awakened’, having been fully charged with power, and allocated his personality parameters (a selection that falls to Charlie, although he decides to let Miranda choose half of the settings), Adam quickly develops into am autonomous character in his own right. Programmed to be obedient, he is happy to undertake the various domestic chores that arise, but he is constantly learning, and frequently surprises Charlie and Miranda with unexpected conversational tangents.

Of course, this being McEwan, we know that mishap is near at hand, and that Fate is simply lurking around the corner, waiting to start flailing with its stuffed eel skin. In this instance, it is not the fruit of a forbidden tree but unfettered access to the internet that renders dangerous knowledge to Adam. Quite early in his development, before his personality ois fully formed, and before he has had a chance to learn the benefits of tactful reticence, he makes a chance remark to Charlie about an incident in Miranda’s past. Entirely unaware of this incident, Charlie finds himself plunged into torment and doubt, and his relationships with both Miranda and Adam are subject to strain.

As one would expect from McEwan, this is carefully plotted and thoroughly researched. The science implied by the development of Adam certainly more than satisfied my limited understanding of such things, and Adam is as triumphant a literary character as he is a technological achievement. Oddly, perhaps, my doubts about the book revolve around the character of Charlie, with whom I struggled to develop any empathy. The overall effect, however, is certainly powerful, and this is a strong addition to McEwan’s already impressive oeuvre.
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LibraryThing member neal_
An alternative future set in the past. As an early adopter, the main character appeared to be remarkably blasé about his new companion. The android's moral code was a bit dubious! Interesting philosophical options, but ultinately then main focus of the novel was, in my opinion, slightly misplaced.
LibraryThing member fromthecomfychair
Ian McEwan's writing is so beautiful it doesn't matter what he's writing about. His prose just carries me along. There are a number of questions I would like to ask the author about the plot. For instance, why was it necessary to alter history beyond keeping Alan Turing alive? The whole Falklands
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War disaster, Jimmy Carter getting a second term, Tony Benn (Blair) being killed by the IRA--how did this really advance the main story? Maybe if I were a Briton I would understand that.

But the main plot line--man uses inheritance to buy AI robot who has a profound effect on his life-- could stand on its own. Alan Turing is important to the story, but all the rest, I just don't understand.

The main characters, Charlie and Miranda, are rather boring and unsympathetic. Charlie is a day trader living south of the Thames who is making just enough to get by. He has a crush on a younger upstairs neighbor, Miranda, who is working toward a degree in some obscure subject. Charlie has a background in electronics, but part of his motivation in buying Adam is to impress Miranda. Into this story comes another character, a little boy who Charlie tries to rescue from an abusive parent at the playground. He doesn't mean it to be permanent, but he ends up having the boy, Mark, dropped on his doorstep.

All this is happening while Adam has come to life and brings with him the plusses and minuses of an artificial human being. He's physically strong and of course, brilliant, but incapable of lying or understanding when a lie might actually be justified. And the question of truth is what underpins the story and would make it a good book group read.
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LibraryThing member Ken-Me-Old-Mate
It was with a great deal of trepidation that I picked this up. I had read of it being talked about as Sci-Fi but could not reconcile that with Ian McEwan's long list of dreary dramas which litter my past.

In fact it is the worst of both worlds, a loosely based sci-fi dreary drama.

The main
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characters, who are instantly detestable and unlikeable, get themselves a humanoid robot who it soon becomes clear is the most human of all of them.

There are no spoilers here because you have to read it for yourself.

It is set in a present that is based on a different past so there is a lot of explaining going on in the form of asides, this is something I have always regarded as a bit amateur. He may be a great emotional world builder but he's not a great sc-fi author. But don't let my obvious antipathy put you off.

Many years ago I lived in Amsterdam at a time when any empty property could be squatted reasonably legally. Whereas the Dutch squatted empty apartments in the best bits of the city, the English squatted in derelict properties with no running water, no sewage, no electric, no gas etc. When I joined a sqautting group to get an apartment they were surprised that I wanted to live in a good part of town. The said they thought the English only wanted to live in squalor.

That is a long aside to kind of explain what I don't like about Ian McEwan's books. He mines the squalid seam of English emotions.

But having said all that it is BLOODY BRILLIANT!
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
McEwan balances the thoughtful and the creepy in deft strokes, and this book is no different. Amidst his commentary on humanity versus robots comes a fascinating exploration of alternative history, at the moment of the Falklands crisis. This is a McEwan I'd like to return to or offer as a seminar
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text someday. 4.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Charlie is a bit of a loser. He comes into a modest inheritance and decides to use it all purchasing one of the twenty-five Adam and Eve androids recently released to the world, a first. Charlie would like to be in love with Miranda, his younger neighbour. She is beautiful and intelligent. He
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decides to share his Adam with Miranda, proposing that each of them contribute half of the answers to Adam’s initial parameters, creating in the process a shared project and a reason to spend time with her. It works. Their affection grows, complicated somewhat by the fact that Adam also falls in love with Miranda. Of course complications ensue since Miranda is both more and less than she appears to be and Adam is a bit of a miracle. Love, crime, revenge, and a full gamut of human emotions follow. Sigh.

McEwan sets Adam’s story in an alternate history. A lot of the 20th century is as we know it, but some key events are different. For example, in the 1980s, which is when this story takes place, Alan Turing is still alive and continuing to produce stellar original contributions to computing science and numerous other fields (which in part explains why computing has advance to the level it has at this point in history). Amidst the jumble of alternative history, McEwan rehearses numerous arguments from philosophy of mind, ethics, and consciousness studies. It reads a bit like a set of extended and overly complicated thought experiments. I hope that isn’t what McEwan thinks literature is because I’m afraid it results in a set of characters and situations for which the reader will have great difficulty having much empathy. I just found I didn’t care about any of them, despite having a reasonable grounding in the computational and philosophical problems that underlie Turing’s famous test. To the extent that the thought experiments were interesting, the entire alternate history of 20th century Britain was irrelevant, and vice versa. In a very real sense, Charlie and Miranda failed to come to life, and certainly no more so than Adam.

I can’t really recommend this. Worse, I dread that it will show up on the reading list of an introductory philosophy course.
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LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
Machines Like Me takes place in an alternate history of the 1980s where the Falkland War is a disaster, Carter beats Reagan in a second term, and Alan Turing is still alive. Charlie decides to splurge an inheritance on one of the 25 new AI models that have just come on the market. He's in love with
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his flatmate upstairs and hopes that if they each program half of his model, Adam, then it might encourage Miranda to return his feelings. He has some misguided idea it would be like having a child together. For all the money Charlie spent, he doesn't seem to know what to do with Adam and leaves him on his own most of the time, treating him as an unpaid domestic.
Like all Mr. McEwan's books, there's a lot going on and much to think about. The reader almost never knows what Miranda is thinking; she's very secretive but her actions affect both Charlie and Adam. Charlie's surname is Friend in an ironic twist since he never really befriends Adam, considering him a rival in love and brains. Adam comes off the best of the lot, but since we never know the choices Charlie/Miranda made in programming his personality, it seems random. In fact, the reader is warned a few times that those instructions in the guide were mere fluff, not really impactful.
The one issue I had was the alternate history setting. While events are referred to frequently, they seem to have little impact on the main story. As an American not well-versed in British politics, a lot of it went over my head. At first, I tried looking up information but decided since it didn't seem to impact the characters I was safe in skipping over much of it. The one exception is the appearances made by Alan Turing. He appears as the godlike figure who opines on the morality of owning an AI like Adam. He was a much-needed voice weighing against Miranda and Charlie's heedless ownership.
Mark is a little boy that Miranda wants to adopt and it's easy to compare his character to Adam. Charlie is initially interested in Mark because of Miranda's interest, but then quickly becomes indifferent, much like his view of Adam. Miranda is so self-absorbed that her interest in the boy doesn't bode well for his future.
This is not one of my favorite McEwan books, but I enjoyed his perspective on computer intelligence and the future of AIs.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
I've liked a lot of McEwan's previous work. This... was not his best. He's still a talented, engaging writer, and he's trying to deal with a lot of interesting ideas. The problem is that speculative fiction is clearly not his comfort zone. The backstory reads like he just wanted to cram in a lot of
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things that he found fun, rather than weaving it together into a coherent narrative. In this alternate universe, technology is vastly ahead, yet British politics has continued on its previous course. This may sound nitpicky, but it reflects his slapdash understanding and concern for the arc of history--technology was in fact intimately tied to political developments.

The narrative feels oddly slow for a book this length--the pacing is really not up to speed, and the characters don't entirely make sense.

It could have been much more than it was.
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LibraryThing member TobinElliott
No score, because I couldn't handle the droning, whining narrator anymore and, around a third of the way in, I threw in the towel.

This book is wretchedly boring.
LibraryThing member rmarcin
Machines Like Me is a sci-fi story of a man, Charlie Friend, who purchases an arificial machine "Adam". He spends his inheritance from his mother on this robotic creature. Along with his upstairs neighbor and lover, Miranda, they program Adam and he becomes part of their lives. Along the way, Adam
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digs into their lives and exposes some truths about them. Just a bizarre story, and way too much time was spent on their bedroom rituals.
If you are going to read a sci-fi book about AI companions, read Klara and the Sun, which in my opinion is far better.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
This was a fail for me. I almost dropped it after the first third, but persevered until three quarters of the way through.
There is a very thin cast of characters, with even thinner characterisation. The plot is asinine and predictable.
There was the basis for a good book here, but it never
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I've enjoyed other books by the author, but I'm going to be a little cautious before I venture into another of his works.
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LibraryThing member annbury
This brisk, amusing novel about robots and people is set in an alternative 1980's Britain, in which Turing lives and technology is far advanced. It is so advanced that it produces humanoid robots, one of which is purchased by Charlie, our not very impressive hero. The ways in which the humanoid --
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Adam -- becomes involved in the lives of Charlie and his lover Miranda produces an absorbing (and funny) novel. But within the novel are embedded arguments about big ideas -- what is "human", where is technology taking us, why can people be so evil, and so on and so forth. Terrific read.
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Dragon Award (Finalist — 2019)




0385545118 / 9780385545112
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