Machines Like Me is the result of very special literary brain, the master of all he turns his writing to, fantasying deep into our imagination, a novelist with the ability to turn complex science or strange events into gripping and elegant prose. Like the best of novelists he knows how to penetrate right inside the makeup of a human being. Every character, however unusual, becomes believable in his deft hands ... Every sentence is well chosen and has perfect form. Every twist in the tale—there are many—is tuned taut for maximum effect ... With this novel Ian McEwan opens our eyes to a future for human beings when that is a real possibility—an insufficient and horrifying prospect.
It is not the first, or even the 10th, place to start reading McEwan if you’ve never encountered him before. Yet he’s such a masterly writer of prose and provocative thinker of thoughts that even his lesser novels leave marks. Machines is a sharp, unsettling read, which—despite its arteries being clogged with research and back story—has a lot on its mind about love, family, jealousy and deceit. Ultimately, it asks a surprisingly mournful question: If we built a machine that could look into our hearts, could we really expect it to like what it sees? ... In recent books, McEwan has sometimes been too showy with his research, and Machines is one of those sometimes: His explication of the world’s revised timeline is disruptive and atonal. Still, there’s something moving about a novelist assiduously reconfiguring history just so one good man can live. Having said all this, Machines Like Me is no more out-and-out science fiction than Kazuo Ishiguro’s elegiac novel about clones, Never Let Me Go. In fact, Machines is about what most literary novels are about: the godawful messiness of being human ... Machines Like Me moves briskly even when it gets hard to pull a comb through its plot ... There’s a passage in which Charlie takes Adam’s powered-down body from a closet that’s so viscerally written it scrapes your nerves like a horror movie. And, to repeat, all he’s doing is taking him out of a closet. As for McEwan’s characters, Charlie can be an irritant, but Miranda is compelling ... Mark, too, is heartbreaking. McEwan has always written stunningly about children ... Innocence never has much of a chance in McEwan’s novels.
... [a] carefully constructed comedy of terrors ... McEwan... is a master at cerebral silliness ... McEwan is incapable of writing a dull line, but his AI conundrums feel as fresh as a game of Pong ... McEwan’s special contribution is not to articulate the challenge of robots but to cleverly embed that challenge in the lives of two people trying to find a way to exist with purpose. That human drama makes Machines Like Me strikingly relevant even though it’s set in a world that never happened almost 40 years ago ... [McEwan] is not only one of the most elegant writers alive, he is one of the most astute at crafting moral dilemmas within the drama of everyday life. True, contending with an attractive synthetic rival is a problem most of us won’t have to deal with anytime soon (sorry, Alexa), but figuring out how to treat each other, how to do some good in the world, how to create a sense of value in our lives, these are problems no robot will ever solve for us.
... pretty good ... Because it’s a McEwan novel, however, and because it falls somewhere toward the middle of his oeuvre in terms of quality, it’s tempting to say about it: Meh. He has set expectations high, this man ... a sharply intelligent novel of ideas. McEwan’s writing about the creation of a robot’s personality allows him to speculate on the nature of personality, and thus humanity, in general ... There are some pokey moments in this novel, some dead nodes. But McEwan has an interesting mind and he is nearly always good company on the page ... McEwan is good on coziness between humans and machines.
Buyer’s remorse is a recurring theme in Ian McEwan’s witty and humane new novel...a retrofuturist family drama that doubles as a cautionary fable about artificial intelligence, consent, and justice ... Why write a novel, in 2019, about a humanoid robot? Like the flying car, it’s a long-anticipated idea that, although not quite obsolete, has begun to feel curiously dated ... McEwan is aware of this belatedness ... There’s a sense in which Adam is supposed to be retro, the misleadingly familiar avatar of an inconceivable future ... You could find reassurance in this parable—robots will never replicate Homo sapiens—but also the expression of an even greater nightmare, that true A.I. will completely depart from anthropocentric standards ... Machines Like Me explores the anxiety of living under a superman’s inflexible scrutiny.
... a thought-provoking, well-oiled literary machine ... [The book] manages to flesh out — literally and grippingly — questions about what constitutes a person, and the troubling future of humans if the smart machines we create can overtake us.
If McEwan does not have Don DeLillo’s genius for making technical jargon sing, he knows when to leaven it with a joke ... In fact, McEwan knows all the novelistic rules: of pace, of scene-staging, of when to withhold and when to release information. This is a book you can set your watch to ... Such is his command of the plumbing and architecture of fiction, you forgive the occasional bloodlessness. The central characters in Machines Like Me become emotional — including the android — but never as emotional as the circumstances seem to demand. There are lapses into prim, Famous Five-ish dialogue when things get heated ... As so often in McEwan’s recent work, the reader is spoilt by his technical mastery, if never quite moved by it ... The resulting novels shimmer with relevance, which is not quite the same as an absolute need to be written. It is certainly not the same as permanence.
To my taste, this is a flat-footed way of doing sci-fi. And, since you can’t possibly explain everything, the reader is sometimes left wondering why the narrator hasn’t also told you what’s happening in the cold war, or China, or how he has ended up with a glass of Moldovan white wine in 1982, when the country, then Moldavia, was part of the USSR. A further weakness is a reliance on long expositional speeches that it’s hard to imagine anyone actually saying ... With these caveats, there are many pleasures and many moments of profound disquiet in this book, which reminds you of its author’s mastery of the underrated craft of storytelling. The narrative is propulsive, thanks to our uncertainties about the characters’ motives, the turning points that suddenly reconfigure our understanding of the plot, and the figure of Adam, whose ambiguous energy is both mysteriously human and mysteriously not ... The novel is morally complex and very disturbing, animated by a spirit of sinister and intelligent mischief that feels unique to its author.
... at times disappointing ... At this stage in his career, McEwan can write a pretty good novel in his sleep. Like nearly all of his books, Machines Like Me is elegantly constructed, the sentences are consistently lovely, and the character dynamics—especially as Adam falls in love with Miranda, and even more so as Charlie and Miranda unite to betray him—always compelling. But Machines Like Me never rises above the level of 'pretty good.' It reeks of wasted potential ... the idea of a robot who seems more human than the humans surrounding him, to say nothing of the question of what those humans might owe him as a result, is hardly new or groundbreaking. And the idea of a robot whose inflexible virtues make him incompatible with naturally corrupt humans (Adam cannot bear the idea of a lie) is a downright cliché ... Machines Like Me seems to avoid delving into new ideas with an almost willful obstinance ... It’s almost like a cyborg itself: The skin of this book is perfect, but when you look below the surface, there’s no soul there.
Machines Like Me is a curious work ... At times it reads like two shorter novels woven together, linked up by the couple at its center ... While it’s very much an alternate history of Britain in the 1980s—both Margaret Thatcher and her ideological rival Tony Benn have significant roles to play in the narrative—there are more than a few moments in the book where McEwan is less than subtle about the resonances of Machines Like Me’s plot to the present day ... As the novel points out, mathematics and technology have their mysteries just as philosophies and faiths do. If humanity does boil down to the most advanced form of machine, it’s a cynical take on the species—but it’s not far removed from this novel’s narrator, who seeks to know himself but ends the book distanced from his own capacity for empathy and violence.
It’s a quirky and enthralling work of alternate history, a counterfactual conflation that brings forth a world quite different than our own, albeit populated by personalities that will ring all too familiar ... Rendered in McEwan’s indomitable and inimitable prose, Machines Like Me takes the reader inside a love triangle unlike any our world has ever seen, a romantic tangle involving a man, his upstairs neighbor—and a machine ... Machines Like Me brings a lot of ideas to the table. So many, in fact, that one occasionally worries that they might overwhelm the story being told. And in the hands of a lesser writer, they likely would have. But with a maestro like McEwan directing the show, concepts slide together rather than clash, serving as complementary pieces in the service of a larger, more intricate narrative – cogs in the machine, if you will ... Machines Like Me is an exceptional addition to the alternate history oeuvre, combining compelling characters with dynamite storytelling in the creation of a fully-realized and familiar-enough world. McEwan demonstrates a real curiosity about the nature of self and an earnest desire to probe the moral and ethical underpinnings of what it means to be human. It’s a story that will capture your attention in the moment, but the ideas that it explores will be present long after the final page is turned.
The intricacies of artificial intelligence are also shrewdly touched upon ... McEwan seems to have exhaustively researched Alan Turing before writing this book but the problem is that he insists on detailing all his research on the slightest pretext. This proclivity extends to other topics as well, specially when it comes to the robot ... The story takes a few unnecessary detours, resulting in a baggy and jumbled narrative ... There is a sense that the themes of morality and AI that McEwan delves in have been addressed before in much more stimulating ways in recent literary fiction ... When Charlie is programming Adam’s personality parameters, he ruminates that '...a lot of life is lived in the neutral zone, a familiar garden, but a grey one, unremarkable, immediately forgotten, hard to describe.' Same could be said for this novel.
Like the best counterfactual novels – and this one is up there with Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America – Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me is as much about the continuities it maintains as the skews it puts on history ... There’s not been a bad Ian McEwan novel since the Booker-winning Amsterdam, but this is right up there with his very best. Machines Like Me manages to combine the dark acidity of McEwan’s great early stories with the crowd-pleasing readability of his more recent work. A novel this smart oughtn’t to be such fun, but it is.
This is a novel which sees McEwan having enormous fun while also being deadly serious ... His world of artificial intelligence is chilly, clever and utterly credible. This bold and brilliant novel tells a consistently compelling tale but it also provides regular food for thought regarding who we are, what we feel, what we construct, and what we might become.
McEwan’s deployment of odd nuggets of information in order to make the fictional reality seem real is undermined by his slightly recondite game-playing, which keeps drawing attention to the confected nature of the reality he’s creating ... McEwan has made quite a study of intractable ethical issues in his novels, and lately they tend to lie inert at the heart of them, refusing his best efforts to give them real intellectual and emotional life. This is a pity because he is a writer of great skill ... a showily literary book ... The politics in the book – as in the books before it – are spectacle, the stuff of newspapers and TV news channels, with no attempt to integrate the reasons behind the conflicts, or their possible bearing on the world ... This is a cautionary tale, and being based as it is on extensive research carries discursive weight, but like others of his recent novels, it remains divided, emotion and information unconnected, while off to one side a chorus underlines the moral issues, sets essay titles and suggests model answers, without ever questioning what human longings are all about.
This accumulation of the exciting and implausible begins to feel a little silly. The late-phase books all, to varying extents, have an aspect of the ridiculous to them; or an aspect of the fun, depending on one’s point of view. Machines Like Me joins its brethren in a genre unique to McEwan, one that as I read, I began to think of as 'high-concept intellectual potboiler' ... The command of language goes a long way toward pulling together the strings of material that, in a lesser writer’s hands, might feel completely absurd ... one senses in Machines Like Me, a master prioritizing his own amusement. McEwan is clearly intellectually curious, and these Idea Books are clearly fun: fun to research, fun to think about, fun to write. And, to be fair, pretty fun to read. Having already dominated the British literary landscape for more than a quarter century, having produced several bestsellers, having won the Booker and just about every award that can be won, it is difficult to begrudge the man his pleasure. Nonetheless, there is an aspect of the hobbyist to it, the retiree retreating to his basement to fool with model trains.
... captivating ... a little complicated. It’s also a rather simple, familiar plot with a cunning twist on the romantic triangle ... Though McEwan’s variant world is 1982, the implication is that the future is now.
... uneven but intriguing ... [McEwan] goes on longer and shaggier here, digressing into tech-manual esoterica and secondary dramas ... when the narrative clicks, it hums; a searching, sharply intelligent, and often deeply discomfiting pass through the 'Black Mirror' looking glass — and all the promise and peril of machine dreams.
... a quirky and enthralling work of alternate history ... Rendered in McEwan’s indomitable and inimitable prose, Machines Like Me takes the reader inside a love triangle unlike any our world has ever seen, a romantic tangle involving a man, his upstairs neighbor – and a machine ... Machines Like Me brings a lot of ideas to the table. So many, in fact, that one occasionally worries that they might overwhelm the story being told. And in the hands of a lesser writer, they likely would have. But with a maestro like McEwan directing the show, concepts slide together rather than clash, serving as complementary pieces in the service of a larger, more intricate narrative ... Machines Like Me is an exceptional addition to the alternate history oeuvre, combining compelling characters with dynamite storytelling in the creation of a fully-realized and familiar-enough world. McEwan demonstrates a real curiosity about the nature of self and an earnest desire to probe the moral and ethical underpinnings of what it means to be human. It’s a story that will capture your attention in the moment, but the ideas that it explores will be present long after the final page is turned.
...a densely allusive, mind-bending novel of ideas that plays to our acute sense of foreboding about where technology is leading us. That it does so in a story set 37 years ago attests to McEwan’s powers of invention ... McEwan eschews the sci-fi trope of androids going rogue, turning on their masters. Here, they’re delicate flowers; several self-sabotage or otherwise do themselves in to quit this vale of tears ... Machines Like Me is more stylized than naturalistic. Besides the retro-futuristic aesthetic, it’s imbued with computational logic — events parsed as matrices of variables, decision trees to navigate. There’s a certain staginess but, overall, the feel of an intricate literary machine situated squarely, in its characters and plot, on the fault lines of contemporary debates about technology ... Machines Like Me's masterstroke is to bring this specter to the moral realm where non-human shades into inhuman, but not necessarily in a way that flatters us.
The most accurate generality one can lay over this story is that it is eminently readable. As with many McEwan novels, this one has you signing the readerly contract by about page 20, and likely breezing through it within a day or two ... The standard how-human-is-this-robot and will-these-robots-revolt-and-overthrow-human-society tropes are deftly brushed aside in favor of more interesting questions ... seems to struggle with the possibly gigantic scope of its speculative manipulations. Can it really be that the only ripples we’d get in return for the development of true artificial intelligence are four more years of Carter and a 70-year-old version of Alan Turing in a silk shirt? It doesn’t quite feel like enough ... McEwan has led an elephant into the room, but he doesn’t want to do the work of rearranging the furniture ... McEwan seems ultimately to have wanted to write a science fiction novel, but he couches it in his old historical upholstery...The result, though, is confounding, both as history and as science fiction. For its clear, and at times, elegant prose, as well as its evident success as a page-turner, this novel probably deserves to sit among the ‘M’s on the shelf.
... an assemblage of fascinating ideas and themes that don’t all fit together. While not an overly complex novel, it covers a lot of ground and has a tendency to ramble ... Within this gangly narrative framework, McEwan riffs on politics, technology, justice, relationships and the philosophy of consciousness. Some of this is intriguing, but more often it feels like a series of loosely connected talking points. The moral examination McEwan has always excelled at is still here but diluted into water-cooler fiction.
While the alternate history is at times clunky and distracting, the comparisons between contemporary British politics and the 1980s are apt. McEwan makes an odd but inventive premise work spectacularly well; it enables him to explore nearly every hot-button issue, and it is fascinating to witness one of the finest living novelists delve into topics of such pertinence and complexity.
McEwan... brings humor and considerable ethical rumination to a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence. But his human characters seem unfinished, his plot a bit ragged. And why the alternate 1982 England, other than to fire a few political shots about the Falklands, Thatcher, and Tony Benn? Does the title make sense as either clause or complete sentence? Are we meant to imagine the 'real' author as a present-day Adam? McEwan is a gifted storyteller, but this one is as frustrating as it is intriguing.
... thought-provoking ... The novel loses steam when Adam’s not the focus: much page space is devoted to a thread about an orphan boy, as well as Charlie’s thoughts and feelings about Miranda. Though the reader may wish for a tighter story, this is nonetheless an intriguing novel about humans, machines, and what constitutes a self.