Title: A Borrowed Man
Author: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
In the twenty-second century, our civilization has retained many familiar characteristics, but the population is smaller. Technology has made significant advances, and there are more robots--and clones.
One such is E.A. Smithe, a borrowed person, a clone who lives on a third-tier shelf in a public library. His personality is an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is library property, not a legal human.
The father of Colette Coldbrook, a wealthy library patron, has disappeared and been proclaimed dead. She decides to check Smithe out of the library because he is the surviving personality of the author of Murder on Mars. A physical copy of that book was the sole item in her father's safe, and it contains an important secret, the key to immense family wealth. Her brother, Conrad, turned up dead in the family home shortly after giving the book to her.
Colette has reached the end of her options. She's afraid of the police, and there are others who might want the book's secret. Smithe is her last hope. Borrowing him might help her find the connection between the deaths and Murder on Mars.
Together they find something far beyond their expectations--something almost anyone would kill for.
The premise of this book really intrigued me. Can you imagine being able to actually check out clones of your favourite authors from the library and take them home with you for a few days?! I haven't decided if that is really cool or completely terrifying or both. Anyway, this idea was the reason I wanted to read this book and I did end up enjoying that aspect of the book. The rest, however, didn't work out for me.
Let's start with the good things. The premise. As I mentioned before, the premise drew me to this book and that aspect did not disappoint. I really enjoyed the moral aspect it brings to the story. You see, our main character is Ern Smithe and he is not considered fully human by law. That's because he is a clone of a famous author and has been imprinted with the memories of his original self. Because he is a reclone, he is not considered fully human (although biologically he is) and is the property of the library. Because he is property, he can be bought and sold and even destroyed if not enough people check him out from the library (a constant fear among reclones like Ern). Obviously most readers would have a huge moral issue with this form of slavery (although, as Ern points out, slaves can be freed and he cannot), but the author just state this as fact and mores on without dwelling on it, which I enjoyed because it lets the reader get worked up about the injustice on their own, without the author dwelling on the issue.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book was a bit of a mess for me. I just didn't enjoy the storyline. I felt like the author kept having things happen and introducing characters, then taking them away, without any actually bearing on the plot. I felt like the plot was set up well initially, then most of the middle was Ern just wandering around doing stuff, then at the end the author rushed to tie the plot back together again.
Another thing that bothered me was inconsistent explanations of things. The initial world building was not bad, but then Ern makes a huge discovery, but there is absolutely no description about how that came about. It's just this fantasical thing plunked down in the middle of a vaguely sci-fi novel with no explanation whatsoever, which I found really annoying. Even if it's not super technical, I want a why!
My third major complaint was the characters. I didn't like them. They all felt flat to me. Ern seemed very bland to me. Colette was kind of interesting because of what had happened to her family, but I certainly found her situation much more interesting than her character. Georges and Mahala were the most interesting character based on the bit of backstory we get, but they pretty much just show up, do whatever Ern tells them, then disappear. Arabella had potential I think, but her character was pretty much non-exiestent and I actually didn't think she contributed anything to the story at all. The bad guys had basically two or three chapters of page time and weren't fleshed out much at all.
This book, despite it's amazing premise and moral issues, turned out to be a disappointment. The characters and plotline were both lacking, which dragged the book way down for me.