Review of Hello Strange – Pamela Morrow

Posted: December 21, 2020 in Review, romance, science fiction, young adult
Tags:

A vivid, fast-paced novel about artificial emotional intelligence.Since the death of their mother, Hunter, Milly and Coel have come unstuck. Their father isn’t coping either, even though he’s the successful head of BIOlogic and is developing a humanoid to enhance human lives.

He brings home Josie, the latest prototype, hoping she might restore the family’s happiness. But Josie took a blast during an epic electrical storm and her system is unstable.

Meanwhile, Professor Bishop and his mysterious student Gwin Tang have their own ominous plans for Josie….

Hello Strange

Pamela Morrow

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan Howell

‘Hello Strange’, written by Pamela Morrow, was released in 2020 and is also her very first publication. Morrow is a well educated person with a background in a range of subjects that is somewhat applied in a number of elements throughout this text, part poetic romance, part science fiction set in the not so distant future, part commentary on immortality, the logical perception of emotions and a grand philosophic ramble, ‘Hello Strange’ is a tonally confusing, and off paced, albeit enjoyable read.

The novel follows the ‘life’ of a humanoid robot named Josie, who gains extraordinary levels of artificial intelligence during a Frankenstein-esque electrical storm. Her creator, Miles McClure is a widower father of three troubled children who are suffering mental anguish after the death of their mother. Milly, the youngest, is a ball of positivity and worry, Coel the middle child is an egomaniac thrill seeker, and the oldest, Hunter, is battling anxieties and worry. When Josie forms a positive relationship with Miles, he offers to bring her home and assist in counseling his children, leading to romantic sparks flying between Hunter and the android, which is as uncomfortable to think about as it sounds. Meanwhile, a villainous professor from the past aims to use his mysterious student’s virus code to destroy both Josie and his arch nemesis, Miles’s business. In essence it’s a sci-fi romance sprinkled in with business subterfuge and a lot of time spent talking and thinking between characters.

Unfortunately for the reader, the relationships between this large cast and wide range of personas don’t quite mesh into 375 pages, there are several characters that don’t receive proper conclusions or ever share a conversation with their counterparts. I would like to see a sequel that expands on the antagonists and makes them a credible threat, rather than spending 5 chapters following them simply to make their exploits a chekhov’s gun for the book’s conclusion. At the other end of this, some characters in chapters overstay their welcome and ramble and reminisce to the audience so much that important plot points like the antagonist’s evil plan are only revealed more than 200 pages into the book. This slow start put me off the book at first, and made some of the chapters an absolute slog to get through, as characters just think and think and think out loud, barraging the reader with cliches and melodrama occasionally, as if written by a very intelligent person vomiting a stream of thought onto a page. Many of these thoughts are easily inferrable, and make for some characters falling flat on their face as their motivations are described in excruciating detail. Which, when written in the present tense, can be a little jarring even when thematically appropriate.

On the plus side, there is a lot that ‘Hello Strange’ does very well. It’s written in a very competent, stylistic way, with a lot of sequences being detailed as if processed through a computer. Which is a certainly unique element that alone made reading Hello Strange unique and more pleasant to explore. In particular, even though romance isn’t my cup-of-tea-genre, I thought the romance between Hunter and Josie was handled in a dynamic way that made their interactions genuinely fun to read. Especially through the lens of essentially a newborn who is just discovering social cues while also being a literally perfect being. Although the book being slow to act at times, the witty conversation that goes on in between is a lot of fun, notably between the children Milly, Coel and Hunter, and especially whenever Bek is on the page, despite being oddly queer coded yet not expressly queer, her humor shines in any interaction she has making for several delightful chapters breaking up some of the morose introspection. When the plot does begin to move and the dominos begin to fall, the action set pieces are always set up and delivered in interesting ways, towards the end of the novel the action snowballs and becomes much more enjoyable in the last quarter. With excitingly vivid wording and unpredictability.

Overall, ‘Hello Strange’ was like vacuuming, it was an enjoyable chore that sometimes felt like work to get through, but often was just a satisfying experience. It’s a certainly unique novel with strong emphasis on explaining the universe with Pamela Morrow’s background in physics and science, and trying to understand the basic questions of our humanity that have been brought up in countless books and films about androids before it. However it delivers a host of unique characters that provide pretty compelling relationships that stack throughout the novel to topple quite suddenly at the end. I can easily recommend this book because of its strong premise and powerfully realised themes, but I do advise that this book is tackled by children aged 14 and up for it’s more mature way of exploring character and emotions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.