When I read what fellow book blogger, Ana, from Ana’s Lair had to say about this offering, I immediately hightailed it over to NetGalley to request it. I was delighted when I was approved and bumped it up to the top of my pile because I was so keen to read it.
Margaret Woodruff is slowly dying in a care home. When her son is presented with the chance of exceptional care in her final months, he finds the offer hard to resist. Winifred is assigned to Margaret’s care. She’s a Helper: a new kind of carer that’s capable, committed and completely tireless – because she’s a synthetic human being.
This is ambitious book is not only a gripping story about what happens to an old lady in a care home, but it is also a discussion about what it means to be human. Kitcatt isn’t afraid to hold up the pace of his unsettling story to provide detailed conversations between Margaret and Winifred, which have stayed with me since I finished reading the book. I’m not sure if I agree with the conclusions he comes to, but they are certainly food for thought and I do thoroughly agree with the prevalent view throughout the book that the life experience gained by the elderly is essentially thrown away in our modern society. This is in sharp contrast to almost every other culture throughout history, where the wisdom of the aged is valued and held in high regard. Although the conclusions that Winifred come to are somewhat worrying…
Any niggles? Well, I do have one. I’m still scratching my head as to why Kitcatt has set the book in 2022, given the sophistication and real-life appearance of the robot. That is only four years away and I simply don’t believe we are anywhere near producing an artificial being with that sophistication and complexity to be rolled out and fully interact with a very fragile human being in the manner described in the book. To be honest, when I saw the date I nearly didn’t continue, being rather nerdy about this sort of thing. While I’m aware, great strides have been made in the field of AI and robotics. I simply don’t believe we are within touching distance of the likes of Winifred and her hub.
However, the writing is sufficiently good and the book has been produced to a high standard with solid formatting, so I decided to proceed and give the author a pass on the unrealistic timeline. Other than that, this is an engrossing read with some important things to say about what we value as a society and a species, and though I thought I knew exactly what the ending would be, that final twist did leave me with a shiver up my spine. All in all, this is a memorable and unsettling read, recommended for anyone who enjoys near future science fiction relating to our current society.