JF Dubeau doesn’t want to be a writer – the man wants to WRITE. He wants to create worlds, or in this case galaxies, for his imagination to explore unimpeded. He has an overwhelming need to create something worthy of his science fiction heroes while still being entertaining.
With The Life Engineered, he does that and he does it well. Dare I say amazingly? I dare.
The Life Engineered, at its core, is a story about love. Don’t confuse what I mean; there’s no making out and holding hands here. It could be akin to what the ancient Greeks called Agápe or Storge. It’s the deeper love given to other living things. The love of how precious a life truly is. The love of family, the desire to remain true to ones beliefs; all courageously explored within these pages. Dubeau deftly navigates not only through the stars but also through the human condition in the guise of sentient robots called Capeks.
The Capeks have existed for millennia with one goal; usher in the return of mankind. Dubeau creates a rich, believable reality in which the Capeks have thrived in the absence of their human creators. The world building in the story is fascinating and multilayered, so much in fact, that in the confines of the story, the surface is barely scratched. A plethora of Capek designs and personalities exists from the mundane (think laborer) to the incredible (we’re talking about literal world building here) with each character touched upon at least long enough to pique your curiosity. Hopefully the planned sequel, Arch-Android, which we are teased with at the end of the book, will shed some more light upon the history of this amazing race of AI.
I won’t go into the plot much because a synopsis can be found here, as well as other places online, but I will say that the story keeps moving forward to its satisfying, if slightly hurried, conclusion.
This brings me to the critical part of this review (I will be grasping at straws here to find a few things). I feel that the first person POV is limiting to this type of story where there are so many new things to be explored, however, I will be the first to admit this is a personal preference and Dubeau handled the POV beautifully by letting the reader experience the galaxy for the first time through the “eyes” of a newborn Capek. Also, I found myself so immersed in the culture of the Capek society that I longed for more input, more information about the how’s and why’s of what these AI’s are capable of becoming. Some expansion surely must show up in Arch-Android in order to complete the minimal dangling threads that Dubeau has skillfully weaved into his yarn. With that said, I believe everything is here to make this story complete, worthwhile, and satisfying.
Finally, and this was the biggest issue for me, I feel that the scope of a story like this needs more time to simmer. There are a handful of times throughout the novel where I want to sit with the feelings presented and let them tear me down for a while before the next onslaught. The book moved along at a brisk pace, which is great, but it could have used a few more of those reflective moments. For instance, I will try to stay spoiler free here, there is a scene where we see the sacrificial death of a character and then we are rushed away to another part of the galaxy where we don’t get a chance to deal with the feelings sufficiently. In a society where death is almost unheard of, I would think it would take more time to processes, but then again…robots. During times of conflict there may not be the reflective time I am suggesting, but traveling interstellar distances takes time; time which could be used to further dive into the Capek condition. These are all small grips that I had to put serious consideration into. Truly, this is a great tale with minuscule flaws that most won’t notice.
The Life Engineered is a fantastic novel and a terrific debut for author JF Dubeau that is sure to open many doors for this up and coming talent. I know that I will be supporting his next effort, A God in the Shed, on Inkshares.com. You should too.