Volume 15, Number 01, Winter, 1997


By Peter James

(Villard 0-679-43733-9 $24.00, 469pp, hc)
December 1995. Cover by Tanya M. Pérez.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
February 1997

Artificial Intelligence is the holy grail of computer science. Such scientific debate provides writers with a rich vein to mine and sift through for ideas. One fact is clear: artificial intelligence makes for great diabolical characters.

Immaculately researched, Host is a tense, riveting exploration of life after death. James explores the two major channels considered in the struggle to achieve immortality: cryogenics, and downloading the contents of the brain. Cryogenics is the art of freezing people—either whole, of simply the head—who die from disease or old age, in hopes that science later will find a way to revive and cure them. A tricky gamble at best, the method does have real life adherents, and corporations exist which will freeze you or your relatives, for a fee, and promise to keep them until they can be restored.

Downloading involves tracing the neural net of the brain and copying this onto a computer, where you can exist either as a ‘mind’ without a body, or hope people will find bodies for you to inhabit. Opinions vary on which method is best, and which will eventually succeed.

James speculates a near-future world, where both these scenarios are viable. His vision is chilling yet enticing. Professor Joe Messenger, a scientist working on a project to download the brain, is tantalizingly close to realize his dream. A brilliant, beautiful young student, with mere months to live, joins his effort.

The effect this union has on Messenger and his family turns nasty when his student dies, but not until after successfully downloading herself into Messenger’s project.

Host works on several levels, as a thriller that throws one surprise and twist after another, and as a speculation about technology that makes you think about the implications of science. There is a brief libertarian cameo; the businessman who financed Messenger’s project is intensely pro-laissez faire.

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