What it means to be human-and a mother-is put to the test in Carole Stivers’ debut novel set in a world that is more chilling and precarious than ever.
The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?
In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human–and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.
Some people would say that the timing for The Mother Code is just uncanny. I can’t help but wonder if this is going to help the readers relate more to the events described by Carol Stivens.
The Mother Code has two timelines that slowly converge. One is following the development of a deadly pandemic that is bringing the civilisation as we know it to its end. The other starts with the birth of a human baby and the way his robot mother is taking care of his needs, including two of the most powerful ones: the need to learn and adapt to the environment in order to survive and the socialization need.
The pandemic described in The Mother Code starts with a biowarfare agent released by the US government with the noble aim of fighting terrorism. If inhaled within several hours after the targeted release, the weapon leads to a terminal lung desease that causes death in a matter of weeks. The weapon is designed to be of a self-containing, degrade-in-several-hours kind. It cannot be replicated by the cells of a contaminated human, so it isn’t supposed to be contageous. The residue denatures to the form which cannot enter human cells. Sounds like the scientists thought of everything that could go wrong.
Well, you guessed it, they didn’t. If you enjoy reading about biology, genetics and biochemistry, you are going to appreciate the author’s explanation of how this ill-advised bioexperiment causes a manmade disaster on the whole planet scale and leads to inexorable collapse of the human society. As scientists race towards finding a cure, they realise they are running of time and might have to fall on Plan B: genetically modified human embryos that would be carried to term and later looked after by special robots. The scientist who oversees the development of these marvellous machines and their programming makes sure every Mother is unique and carries a personality based on a real woman, the egg donor for that particular child.
Depending on your preferences you might find one of the two timelines more interesting. Perhaps, the pandemic line was more focused, more believable. Having said that, there were some aspects that reflect our geopolitics and tie it to our time. You know when you read The Ender’s Game and come across a passage on the Soviet Union and say to yourself: What?!Oh, right, it was written in the early eighties…
Good science-fiction needs to ask thought-provoking questions. The role of early socialization and mother/caretaker-child unique bond, machine learning, AI, the new and fresh look on the brave new world which is created by humans who are raised by machines…I think the book could have gone even deeper into exploring these fascinating issues.
There were quite a few characters – the scientists, the military personnel, the children. Perhaps, if there were fewer, I could have felt a stronger emotional connection to their stories. Or perhaps, it is the case of the concept development taking precedence over the characterisation. As it was, my favourite character was probably Rho-Z, because I really wanted to see how much of her was the original Mother Code and how much was being Kai’s Mother, the mother of a real boy who is discovering the world.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Mother Code and would love to see a film adaptation for this book- there is so much potential to make the story spectacular. Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read The Mother Code or is it on your tbr?
- Do you enjoy reading science-fiction and, in particular, dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction?
- Should science-fiction avoid using complex, technical terminology or is it a part and parcel of the genre?