The year is 2085, and the world dives blindly into capitalistic hysteria while dreaming of a technologic singularity. India and China now dominate as economic leaders, and people have become over-reliant on the cold logic of artificial intelligence. Who can save the world from such self-inflicted decay? Here we find Sumeet, the cream of Indian education, and a top notch investment banker. But he's unhappy with the good life laid before him, and soon meets Shinzou Friemann, a mysterious consultant who offers solace from the fetters of unbridled capitalism. But Shinzou is not all that he seems, and Sumeet is unwittingly drawn into the hunt for an unusual terrorist group - one where the lines between terrorist, freedom fighter, hero, and madman all break down.... Welcome to the Freedom Club. Both men explore a future world overrun by consumerism, technology, and discontent, where being human isn't good enough as God-like Sentient Beings threaten the very meaning of life. Written in a way that echoes John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, Freedom Club is frighteningly prescient, and intensely powerful.
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Intricate plot, cool characters; just needs ladies
Set in 2085, the world is technology dependent. More and more, humans have come to rely on their Sentients to run things, everything from large financial structures to household schedules. Sumeet, who was top of his class, and excellent in his chosen field, eventually finds himself not satisfied. Shinzou offers up his advice and a possible job, both of which give Sumeet pause. The Freedom Club pushes for simpler, less tech-infused lives, but how does one explain that to a Sentient?
This book offered up a lot of food for thought. The plot was intricate and the cast interesting. Also, if one wanted to do some inferring, there was a deeper message about dependence on technology. The story starts off with a little historical flashback to 1600s Japan and the last remaining Christians. This flashback is explained later in the book. In fact, these little historical flashbacks happen regularly throughout the book, showing various members of the Freedom Club throughout history.
The tale then launches into a mystery crime story with a virus taking down payment systems. Phoenix is the first city hit and Hugo is the cop assigned to look into it. He suspects an anti-tech group might be behind it, but he will have a hard time proving it. He hesitantly teams up with Shinzou for info swapping. This opening is what hooked me on the story – I like a good SF crime story. Little did I know things would get so intricate.
So there’s a bunch of corporate maneuvering with international companies (such as Takahana Biovores and Chando company), which wasn’t nearly as interesting as what Hugo the Cop was doing, but it set a stage for me to get to know several other characters, including a few Sentients. The Sentients, like Henry who is Shinzou’s friend, are a type of AI. They interact with the physical world via avatars that allow them to walk and talk. In fact, if someone isn’t paying close attention, they can appear quite human in their mannerisms. Shiro is another Sentient who plays a pivotal role in the story. His personality is quite different from Henry’s. Rather late in the tale, we learn how the AIs are made and let me just say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that!
There’s other cool tech on display in this thinking SF story as well. I was pretty interested in the biovores, which are like minuscule biologically active machines that can be used for good purposes, like curing blood born diseases in humans. There are also several virtual reality scenes where we get to see what the ‘homes’ of the Sentients are like for when they are not in avatar mode interacting with humans. AI has also freed humans from many domestic chores, like cooking. Now, it is an oddity to go to a restaurant and have humans cook, and some even consider it unsanitary.
Wrapped up in this very excellent SF story, is a message about technology, becoming too dependent on it, and how living simpler lives can provide greater freedom. The story is written so that I, as the reader, didn’t feel any judgement from the author one way or another. Indeed, there are both good and bad characters on either side of that line in this book. Some members of the Freedom Club have taken it too far (both in the past and in the story’s present) and have essentially become terrorists against technology. I found it all very interesting to have this deep question (does tech set us free or chain us?) spirally through the main plot.
My one criticism of the book is a biggie. There are several female characters, all with minor roles, throughout the book. However, there are no major female characters that are plot central and there are no female Freedom Club members. Yep. That’s right. The Freedom Club is one big sausage fest. No ladies what so ever. I really hope this is some horrible oversight by the author. Accidental misogyny is easier to swallow than intended misogyny.
The book is diverse in other ways. The plot takes us around the world to Japan, India, and the American Southwest. There’s some Europeans represented at one of the corporate companies. Various ages are also represented in our major characters.
The ending takes us to the brink of another ‘terrorist’ attack. I really didn’t know how things would fall out. I was surprised with the ending and by choices made by a few of the Sentients. I found the ending both realistic and satisfying. It will be interesting to see if the author does a sequel.
The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a very nice job with this book. There were a ton of accents needed (Japanese, Hindi, American, German, French, etc.). Hi Japanese accent started off a little rough but quickly got smoother. He had distinct voices for all characters, even when 2 or more were of the same country. For the few female characters, he had believable voices. I especially liked his elderly voice for Shinzou and his skeptical cop voice for Hugo.