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Less Than Human
Maxine McArthur
Warner Aspect, 400 pages

Less Than Human
Maxine McArthur
Maxine McArthur's first novel, Time Future, won the 1999 George Turner Prize. The second, Time Past, is a sequel, and was published in February 2002. She lives in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.

Maxine McArthur Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Time Past
SF Site Review: Time Past
SF Site Review: Time Future
SF Site Review: Time Future

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

Sometimes, we as humans don't live up to our potential. Sometimes, in fact, we seem to be a massive waste of cells -- Nazis, serial killers, pedophiles -- whose only redeeming quality is the fact of our humanity. As far as we have searched on this planet and the tiny percentage of outer space we have explored, there is nothing like us; humans are unique creatures. So what would be our reaction if someone found a way to challenge our essential nature, make us more than the biological shells that hold us? Would we jump at the chance or refuse to abandon the fragile vessels that make us what we are? Would we then become, as Maxine McArthur suggests, less than human?

McArthur examines more than the simple question of man versus machine in her latest novel. In Less Than Human she explores precisely what it is that makes us who and what we are. With our differing and conflicting cultures, we might actually seem to be distinct species. McArthur plays out this examination against the backdrop of future Japan, with an occidental heroine who will never really be accepted by the society as a whole. If she is not Asian, might she just as well be machine for all that she remains isolated in this dismal, lifeless land?

Eleanor McGuire spends her life among the robots she seeks to bring to "life," spending long hours coaxing more human behaviour from machines. More and more, her own life comes to revolve around this challenge, turning away from the outside world that cannot get past her alienness, no matter how immersed she is in its culture, language, and customs. Perhaps she has more in common with the digital and live-wire interfaces than she will ever have with her employers, her in-laws, and every person retreating from the ugly outside world in the super-clean, sterile atmosphere of the Betta housing complexes.

When the seemingly impossible happens and a worker is killed by a manufacturing robot, McGuire is forced out of her insular world and forced to rethink what she thinks she knows about the people and beliefs that surround her. Dragging her from the safety of her lab is the sorrowful Assistant Inspector Ishihara to whom it falls to investigate the death and put things in order again. Because, order is of supreme importance and no one is going to be allowed to disturb that uneasy balance. Too bad neither McGuire nor Ishihara is exactly the robotic cogs their superiors wish for.

What they discover together is all the more chilling because of its plausibility. As cults and fundamentalist religions lurk just out of sight now, threatening enough with existing technology, how much worse could it get as the science around us progresses? Will there be a point where we cannot fight back? McGuire and Ishihara are not willing to give up so easily, but it will be a race against time and willful ignorance to prevent the ultimate takeover. And the odds are not on their side.

Copyright © 2005 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction, horror, dark realism, and humour. DARKERS, her first novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She is a contributing editor at SF Site and for BLACK GATE magazine. Lisa has also written for BOOKPAGE, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, Science Fiction Weekly, and SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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