Xeno’s Paradox by Brian Stableford
Published by Borgo Press, 2011. Also available as a kindle ebook.
Review by Barbara Godwin
Twenty years before the events in this story, powerful Artificial Intelligences were outlawed so that they hid themselves away in a cyberspace equivalent of Sherwood Forest. They are still feared as rogues by a world order which seeks to control even the production of human progeny. One of their number, named Napoleon, has maintained secret contact with Carly MacLaine, who over the intervening years has built himself a university career in the genetic study of plant-life.
Carly suddenly finds himself the subject of unwelcome attention from the political powers. A new situation has arisen which demands both his special expertise in Xenogenesis and his connection with Napoleon, which proves to be less secret than he believed. He is swept off to the Marine Biology Unit in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.
Napoleon has been overlooking humanity, but even he has no knowledge of what is there. Carly is astonished to find that in this world where there is so much ugliness due to misapplied information and science, an amazing and rather beautiful paradox has come quietly into existence.
Carly’s presence becomes more like unofficial detention in custody than consultation and before long he is hidebound by different echelons of officialdom who want to manipulate his AI associate. Nevertheless, he discovers nuggets of the truth and it becomes clear that another outlaw AI, appropriately named Xeno, has produced the paradox, but with what purpose?
How Carly seeks to resolve these various complexities is a provocative adventure in science and forward-thinking . The questions introduced, as always, are what makes Brian Stableford’s work so extraordinary. In this future, all is in a state of flux and evolution, yet humans are seeking to maintain superiority and control – to the extent that they are scheming to eliminate certain genetic conditions, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, which has produced individuals renowned for their brilliance in many fields, in particular, science itself. In this book, marine, botanical, biological and the artificial life forms have all evolved in their various ways, and whilst humans are attempting to be the Architects of the New Renaissance, they are making a mess of it. When something exquisite emerges outside their control, their lack of acceptance can, if not educated by other life forms, be of such a shallow and small-minded nature that it could inhibit even human evolution.
Yet the book ends with a further debate, that of not attempting to manage our future genes, and the lack of wisdom in simply allowing nature to take its course. We would then have not one iota of control over our future destinies. Who knows how a philosophical debate on this scale would end? The author wisely leaves the conclusions to the reader.