Volume 23, Number 02, Winter 2005

Prometheus Road

By Bruce Balfour

Ace Books, 2004, $6.99
ISBN 0-441-01221-3
Reviewed by David Wayland
November 2005

Bruce Balfour’s background lies in the computer gaming industry, something that strongly shows through in his third and most recent novel, Prometheus Road. Set in the near future, this novel delineates a world much like the future of The Terminator and other techno-fear scenarios; one day, that which we create (robots, artificial intelligence) will turn upon us and enslave or destroy us.

In Prometheus Road humans created AIs which realized that humanity was incapable of managing its own affairs. These AIs destroyed the cities on the US Pacific edge, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, and made everything west of Las Vegas off limits. The remaining pockets of humanity on the West Coast they carefully control and change into small farming communities, where independent thinking is punished, and access to technology severely limited.

Tom Eliot is a teenager fascinated with the technology of bygone times. He spends his free time trying to explore the ruins in the forbidden zone to find artifacts. When he is discovered, his family is obliterated by the region’s governing AI. It seems that Tom possesses a special quality, something the AIs fear and are desperate to destroy. For years his family hid behind normalcy, but Tom’s natural curiosity now endangers everything.

A hermit known as Magnus, who seems to know much about the workings of the AIs and how to evade their sniffers, rescues Tom. Magnus seeks to teach Tom how to walk the Prometheus Road, which appears to be a direct link into the AI virtual reality world. Danger stalks this road, and Tom’s naiveté sends him and his new found friends into deadly encounters with the AIs.

In a plot that seems to mirror The Matrix (another tale of technology turning upon its masters), Tom must confront the AIs inside their world. Which side will succeed? Is it possible to broker a truce between the humans and the AIs, or must one or the other be destroyed?

Prometheus Road breaks no new ground, and the behavior of Tom Eliot chafed my sensibilities throughout the novel. He seems to never learn from his mistakes, and displays little common sense. The key to the road which Tom must walk never really becomes clear, and the climactic battle and environs of the AI virtual reality bears a strong semblance to current video games. In many ways this book was a disappointment, despite the interesting title.

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