In all the post-apocalyptic literature I’ve read in the last few years, Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has felt the most like home. On a planet that is inundated with people, summers are scorching, winters are wickedly unpredictable and springtime lasts all but two weeks. Sounds a little familiar as of late, no?
Caterina Novak is the namesake daughter of this love story which starts out innocently enough. Raised as an only child, Caterina spends her days tromping around the woods learning through experience. When they feel it is time for their daughter to be taught in a more formalized capacity, they do what any parent in a science fiction story would do: get a robot to teach her.
As she grows up, this artificial intelligence becomes more a friend than tutor. Yet as life progresses, Caterina’s budding sexuality does as well, and with it an unhealthy interesting in the one that is not programmed to teach her of the birds and the bees. It isn’t until she kissed him (the robot, as he is referred to throughout Daughter) she accidentally (literally) turns him off.
What follows as Caterina matures into adulthood is a lonely sexual journey. A cold, empty woman emerges through romance and an on-again/off-again affair with the robot. She runs her own scientific experiments as the artificial intelligence of the robot learns to live his life through more feeling.
Digging deeper into the novel, the reality of robot emancipation mirrors a seriousness akin to real-life issues of immigration reform, race relations and even same-sex marriage. The inherent subtleties only exacerbate the problems at hand, giving them much stronger legs on which to stand.
The style and substance of Clarke’s world-building catapults this story above and beyond my hopes for it. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a deep, dark tale of passion that fills the emptiness with the same lies and rationalities we tell ourselves to make us feel better about the choices we make. I was hoping for some sort of robotic craziness when all I needed was a little love of my own.
Books with Your Barista featured in the Lock Haven Express, 02/14/13.