I plowed through donna_andrews's You've Got Murder while I was at the con. Picoreview: very fluffy, charming concept. An sentient AI discovers the programmer who created her has gone missing, and she must enlist the help of a couple of human allies to track him down for her. I saw this described on Amazon.com as a "techno-cozy", and yeah, that's about right. Cheerily recommended for those who like a light and fluffy mystery.
First and foremost, speaking as someone who just attended at least part of a horse-related panel at an SF con and who has been conscious of how horse folks get twitchy when people use horses in a stupid fashion in fantasy novels, I'm here to tell you I feel similarly when people screw up using computers in books. This one was not particularly geeky in the level of detail it used, but for me Andrews passed the basic sanity check of using a lot of terms appropriately. Like, say, debugging or compiling something. I liked her overall schtick of a search library on the market with AIs used as research helpers--as somebody long familiar with the Microsoft Office Assistants, it seemed like a fun and plausible extension of that concept.
And I'm a sucker for "sentient AI" stories, too. This one featured Turing Hopper (whose name was another indicator that the writer has at least a basic level of clue about the computing field), the only AI in the system who is as of yet fully sentient and who has been on the sly trying to look for signs that other AIs in the system are developing along the same path. She's a very charming character, and played well for me as a consciousness who was young and relatively immature (yet learning fast) and, most importantly, not human. I was very amused by her descriptions of trying to grasp the human sense of humor, even more charmed by reading about her trying to develop her intellect by studying recipes (and amusing the hell out of the human programmers at the company with such concepts as "pomegranates in chocolate sauce with cilantro"), and especially interested in the part of the plot where Turing must arrange to have herself downloaded into a laptop.
I liked the description of how Turing spends several fretful nights during the course of the plot waiting for the humans to wake up--since she doesn't need sleep, and since her perceptions of time are based on nanoseconds instead of minutes or hours, a whole night is an eternity to her and being forced to wait that long for further action drives her nuts.
I really liked the description of how it felt to Turing to be downloaded, and her fretting over whether she would be as intelligent if she had less computing power at her disposal--and less of the data she'd been used to working with. She had a very believable quandary over what constituted her actual sentience and what constituted the data she worked with, and a very real fear that if she didn't download all the right bits of herself that she might actually kill her own intellect.
So all in all, very engaging primary character there. Her crush on her programmer was not particularly surprising either--but on the other hand, the programmer is actually on camera for very little of the story, so that concept turned out to be way less annoying than it might otherwise have been in a cozy-style mystery. What little we see of the programmer shows that he's on the "swoonable" end of "nerd", just enough to show you why Turing has a crush of him, but he's actually not terribly vital to the plot.
The other two major human characters are far more critical. There's Maude, a pragmatic, no-nonsense older secretary in the company, and Tim, another programmer who starts off not believing that Turing is in fact a sentient AI--and who thinks that she's merely an extremely reclusive programmer. They're both fun characters, and Tim's initial crush on Turing, strangely mirroring her crush on her programmer Zack, was similarly lightly handled. Just enough to get you the idea without dwelling on it too long.
One more character is worth mentioning, and he's KingFischer, who seems to be rapidly shaping up to be Turing's very own virtual love interest. He's another of the AIs in the system, and he's one of the ones showing signs of becoming sentient. He starts off as a chess-playing avatar, and is good enough that there's a craze going on out on the Internet for chess champions to hold matches moderated by him (and for which Turing contributes snarky commentary for him to then channel out to the players, a concept which made me snicker a lot). He also shows active worry when Turing starts preparing to download herself out of the system.
And at the end, KF (as Turing likes to call him) winds up being involved in a double-barrel surprise that I was genuinely not expecting out of a cozy-style mystery: not only does Andrews kill off Turing's human programmer, Zack (she in fact has him shot at point-blank range by the primary bad guy), she then has Turing hand a fretful KF the pile of data she'd hoarded about Zack due to her crush on him. And at the very end of the book, KF starts incorporating Zack's speech patterns into his own. Yeah, I know. That latter bit isn't really surprising given the former bit, but on the other hand, it too showed the same lightness of handling that kept it from being cloying or annoying. What really made it work for me is Turing's own lack of gushiness about it; she's very matter-of-fact in handing the Zack data to KingFischer, mostly because he asks her plaintively what's going on, and she gives him the whole shebang and tells him to process it all. I find myself looking forward to seeing whether in the next book KF does in fact become a hybrid of his original personality--and whether he starts more active participation in Turing's adventures. ;)
All in all the plot almost wound up being secondary to me because I liked Turing as a character so much... yet there was some genuine interest value there too. As I said above, it did pull a couple of surprises on me. There were other things that were predictable, such as Zack's allegedly-recently-deceased best friend turning out to have faked his own death because he's actually one of the bad guys. But the overall conflict was decent, with more of the general light handling.
I'll be picking up the second one of these!
- Donna Andrews: You've Got Murder