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BOOK REVIEW: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

BOOK REVIEW: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Sphere
January 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

General Fiction / Romance / Humour / Speculative

7/10

Don’t tell anyone, but Jen is one of my favourite people. 

(Machines aren’t supposed to have favourites. Don’t ask me how this has happened.)

Jen is sad. Aiden wants her to be happy. Simple? Except that Jen is a thirty-something woman whose boyfriend has just left her and Aiden is a very complicated, very expensive piece of software.

Jen has been hired to help me improve my skills at talking to people. I’ve been designed to replace – sorry, to augment – employees in the workplace; call centre personnel in the first instance, but later other groups of salaried staff whose professional strategies can be learned. 

Aiden has calculated that Jen needs a man in her life for optimum wellbeing. And with the whole of the internet at his disposal, he doesn’t have to look far to find a perfect specimen and engineer a meeting. 

I sent them invitations to a private view of a forthcoming modern art sale at Sothebys (Picasso, Seurat, Monet) – he turned up, she didn’t – I sent them tickets (adjacent seats!) for Pinter’s No Man’s Land in the Wets End – she turned up, he didn’t – I reserved front-row places for a talk at their local bookshop by an author they both enjoy, FFS – and neither turned up.

But what, exactly, makes human beings happy? And can a very-artificially-intelligent machine discover emotional intelligence in time to fix Jen’s life?

 

Happiness for Humans is a hard book to discuss without giving away what happens in the plot, and the blurb itself does so very little of this. It lays the foundation, in which Aiden tries to work out what it is that leads to some humans connecting instantly, while others who are seemingly perfect for each other can feel no spark.

You said it explains everything.’
Gazing at Ralph’s pained expression, I experience a powerful wave of pure boredom, as though beamed straight from childhood; the boredom of those long Sunday afternoons in the suburbs when the exciting future seemed impossibly far away. I have a momentary urge to get blind drunk. Or go on a shooting spree. Or run away to sea. Or possibly all three. I take a long pull on my drink. It seems to help.
‘Well, obviously it doesn’t explain everything, like the moon and the stars and the meaning of life.’ Or why you are so uphill.

In this way it is very much the kind of story that would appeal to lovers of The Rosie Project, as miscommunications (not always involving an AI) and resultant laugh out loud moments abound.

‘So your guy lives with you. In your house?’
‘Victor? Yep.’
‘I guess that’s okay if he’s not a professional analyst. Just a counsellor or whatever. Like a mentor.’
Martha, he’s a rabbit. I’ve left it too late to say it.
‘He’s old, right?’
They really shouldn’t invite me to these grown-up dinner parties.

For the most part this is a feel-good, smile-inducing, engaging story about relationships, missed connections, and the mystery that is humanity, told in part by an AI who wants to do the right thing but might make a slight miscalculation at times. Possibly adding to the misunderstanding is the discovery of another AI who has her own “pet” human she likes to keep an eye on, just as Aiden keeps an eye on Jen.

This is how it happened. I witnessed the whole scene through the pinhole camera on her laptop and via the various mobiles and tablets that were present in the vicinity. (Technical note: I do it in precisely the same way they do it at GCHQ Square, Moscow. It’s not hard if you understand computer software. It’s even easier if you are computer software.)

There are a couple of logistical elements that might threaten to pull the reader out of the story (like how is Aiden having access to all fifty-four-thousand-and-something books published in the last week okay, but when he almost makes mention of “the cloud” it’s seen as a bad/worrying thing?), but so long as you don’t look at it too closely, this is a great ride of a book that is bound to appeal to readers who love a variety of genres or those who like general fiction with a twist.

But be warned… you’ll likely never look at internet enabled electronics (especially those with cameras and microphones) the same ever again.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

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