Machines Like Me takes place in an alternate 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda's help—he designs Adam's personality. It isn't long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.
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.