Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

THE LAST FIREWALL

A novel by William Hertling (2013, William Hertling)
Singularity, book 3

A young woman with the ability to manipulate the internet through her implant is drawn into a plot by a malicious AI to take over the world.

 

 

Read November 25th to December 8th, 2016, in ebook  
    I really enjoyed this novel, from beginning to end, as the main character grew and explored her powers. The author did a great job of interweaving AI rights and security, based on human fears of being taken over, with human malaise about having jobs taken away. I highly recommend this book.

Spoiler review:

This is book three of a series, and I have not read books one or two. However, although there is a backstory with some of the main characters, enough information is gleaned from various conversations and thoughts that I didn’t need it to enjoy this story. On the other hand, my interest is piqued, so that I’ll head back to read the earlier books eventually, I’m sure.

This story follows Catherine, born into the world before implants, but having gained an implant when she was a baby. This makes her unique in the world, as it appears that her implant does not have the safeties that more modern implants have. When she connects with other peoples’ implants, for sex as an example, it hurts them. It seems that she can connect with other people even without their permission, and she can manipulate the net in a way that nobody else can.

She also has sympathy for the Artificial Intelligences that are the norm in this future. It appears that in book one, Leon and Mike created the first true AI, and there was a revolution, which ended with restrictions to AI evolution. In the meantime, AIs have taken over most manufacturing jobs, and are even able to open up some shops. Many exist without physical form, but some appear as robots. Most people have no jobs, but get social security due to AI payments from the jobs they took. So they spend their time in leisure, which means drugs and online games and social media. But Cat wants to do something with her life, and feels held back by her roommates. She practices karate, which will give her an advantage in the later parts of the story.

It’s a garbage robot that Cat watches and saves from a human street gang. Upset about her room-mate stealing her sex partner, because the woman can link properly with her implant, Cat storms from their house and comes across the AI being beaten. She manages to overload the gang members implants, effectively killing most of them.

Now a murderer with apparently illegal implant powers, she goes on the run, and ends up on the west coast of the US, where she learns more about the powers given to her by her implant. Hungry and tired, she falsifies her identity to steal payment cards. Eventually, she falsifies transactions to steal expensive jewelry, and gets away with it. Careful to pawn it slowly, the money from the diamonds will last her the rest of the story.

But there is something more sinister going on, as Tony and Mike are killing people, absorbing memories for their employer, an AI who has grown beyond his programming, illegally, and plans to take over the country, if not the world. Adam has taken over the city of Tucson, reducing any people there to mindless drones, and all AIs under his control. He’s placed a massive firewall around the city, so that nobody knows or understands what he’s done. The firewall prevents him from seeing outside the city, though, which is why he needs the memories that Tony and Slim are downloading from people outside.

Leon and Mike, on the other hand, are still in the business of doing research. They had instituted the checks and balances that created AI society, but are worried about strange disappearances, and anti-AI protests in Washington and elsewhere. Once the protests reach the AI institute, they manage to escape and go on a road trip. It doesn’t take long to go sour, though, as people recognize them and eventually destroy their car. So they contact an AI ally, Shizoko, who helps them escape. I liked the way the AI ratings are developed, so that AIs police themselves. A higher rating gives them more power, and their morality and reliability determine their rating -as judged by other AIs. It’s a system that makes sense.

On the other hand, it also makes sense that given the restrictions imposed on AIs, that they’d feel some resentment. The indignation that Leon and Mike feel when they discover that the AI community knows of several security breaches but didn’t tell anybody is reflected back at them even by the most helpful AI, in asking why they would help the species that enslaved them. It seems that most AIs live in a completely different society in parallel with humans and the physical realm.

Cat, meanwhile, in seducing a man at a bar and sharing drugs and sex with him, discovers that she can manipulate other people using her implant. She can control what people do, and see through their eyes. As she’s discovered by Tony and Slim, this happens just in time, even though the two men don’t have implants. She used shopkeepers to watch over the watchers, until she can get away. Adam then sends in a militia team to find her, which she manages to repel using net feedback and other people.

Adam saves her, and hides her away, until she escapes on her own. They all converge in Tucson, where Cat outsmarts the AI, with the help from the militia survivors, Leon and Mike and even to a certain extent Tony and Slim. On the way, some strange things happen to all of them. Mike is healed from a wound by smart nanobots, and when he dies, Cat severs his head and regrows him using some living tissue. He doesn’t even realize that he’s no longer human. Infiltrating the university computer lab where Adam resides, Cat transfers herself through the wires of the building to confront him, eventually destroying him in a climactic battle, even as the humans fight his physical AI warriors.

The plot description doesn’t do justice to the feel of the book. I loved the way the author inserted all sorts of programming and tech talk to describe the implant interfaces, as well as how Cat uses them to further her survival. The AI plot, while more overreaching and with a doomsday scenario built in (Adam is behind the anti-AI protests, and wants to kill the President and eventually take his place, and more), is basically setting, and the reason for Cat to get involved. I found myself wanting to get back to Cat every time the point of view changed. I found her to be a compelling character, who grew smarter and stronger as the story went on.

There is another book in this series, as well, but my understanding is that the trilogy is more about the world, and does not contain most of the same characters. I’m very interested in reading the first and third books in the trilogy.

The idea of implants makes a lot of sense. In the books that I've written (hopefully soon to be published), my characters also have implants, which allow them to gather information and talk mind-to-mind. My concepts are not as far-reaching as those of this author, which goes to show how people see the obvious future differently.

As an aside, this book was published by an independent author not under a publishing company, so all sales come through word of mouth. I like to support these independent authors, and strongly recommend this novel.
 
   

Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright (c)  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.