Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker (SF Novel, March 2019).
The idea of the android/robot/Artificial Intelligence that is given or develops human emotions has been a recurrent trope since the genre’s pulp era, if not earlier. “I, Robot” (the short story from the 1930’s, not the title of the later Asimov collection) comes immediately to mind. Of course, Asimov himself dealt with the implications of sentient machines searching for their places in society and for recognition/acceptance of their person-hood in numerous works. The character of Data in the Star Trek multiverse is a more recent example. With only a relatively modest stretching of definitions, you could even include Mary Shelley’s seminal creation in Frankenstein as a forerunner to the theme.
So now we have Today I Am Carey to consider. As the author notes in the Acknowledgements essay that precedes the novel, Shoemaker’s book had its genesis as a story in the pro e-zine Clarkesworld. That story won wide acclaim and appeared in numerous “Best of the Year” lists and anthologies. A later chunk of the current book appeared in a charity anthology. And still later on, the author was convinced to follow another longstanding genre tradition: Expanding well-honored stories into a full-length novel.
The result is one of the most satisfying and emotionally powerful near-future titles in recent memory. An android created to offer care for patients suffering severe medical problems, Carey unexpectedly grows into a fully realized individual and even, at long last, knows what is to love and be loved. Its name, gifted by the adoring grandchildren of his first patient, refers to his mission as a caregiver. Soon he is a devoted part of the family, rather than a mere appliance or even a loyal employee. Over the years, Carey stands by several generations of this family, as well as forming bonds with others at a retirement/personal care home and, yes, the scientist who headed his development and eventually finds herself unable to avoid thinking of the android as her son.
All the while, Carey is growing more complex. More human, but also more of a distinct and unique person. His struggles to adapt, to understand and come to terms with his unusual status make for compelling reading. So do the very human stories of the characters he interacts with, being influenced and influencing them in turn.
And I might add, the science elements of the story-line are handled with equal skill. This is ‘hard’ SF that never forgets that the best stories focus on people—their hopes, dreams and fears.
Very highly recommended.