The Mad Scientist's Daughter
by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Review by Mel Jacob
Angry Robot Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857662651
Date: 29 January 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Clarke has written the sad, twisted love story about a young girl and an almost-human android. Finn, the android, was created by a scientist who lost her son. She gave him a human appearance, a personality, and an amazing range of abilities. Troubled, because he was not fully human, she plans to destroy him.
Humanity has experienced dramatic change. The environment went wild and large sections of the country are now desert. Mankind has survived and adapted. Androids, once valued servants, are now largely discarded. Most people are anti-android.
In this coming of age story, Caterina Novak, the only child of two scientists, has a loving but distant father and a mother who almost isn't there. They both expect Cat to be an engineer, but she can't master math. Her father hopes the android Finn can remedy that.
Cat spends her childhood years tutored by Finn. He opens up a new world for her of stories, history, and nature. He teaches her about the world around her, but not how to interact with other people. He is always there for Cat, and she turns to him when in need of comfort.
The only one of his kind, Finn is anatomical correct and has been programmed for his role as a teacher. He also works as an assistant to Cat's father, an expert in artificial intelligence. As Cat matures, her parents decide to send her to the local school, but she hates it and becomes even more isolated. To Cat, Finn is a person, but others regard him a machine and taunt her about him. She is torn between seeing him as a person and his insistence he is only an intelligent machine.
Cat loves Finn and wants him as a life partner, but such an idea would horrify her mother and most of society. Finn is more than able to satisfy her sexual longings. Torn between her love for him and what society considers acceptable, Cat becomes depressed. Eventually she opts for a liberal arts college and gets a scholarship. There she finds others with common interests. She writes a paper on consciousness based on her interactions with Finn and becomes an artist in textiles and weaving. The novel is not so much a space fantasy as a literary exploration of sentience, attitudes, prejudice, and what love means. The story revolves around a self-absorbed child/woman who cannot acknowledge and pursue the object of her affections because of societal mores and attitudes. Instead, she seeks human substitutes for whom she has no affinity or respect. In the process she diminishes herself and destroys others because she believes she cannot have what she most desires.
Others have treated human-android/robot interactions and couplings such as Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, "Helen O'Loy" by Lester Del Rey, the TV series My Living Doll, episodes of Star Trek with Data, the film Bicentennial Man, and Isaac Asimov's novels and stories. Clarke covers complex issues including the definition of human.
Readers may be mixed about Cat. Told from Cat's point of view, some will not like her and may find the novel too depressing.