Book Review: The Prophecy of the Heron
Reviewed by Timothy A. Thomas
An impassioned cautionary tale espousing the potential dangers of artificial intelligence in an increasingly dependent world
Standing as we are in a time when the prospect of artificial, sentient beings is hotly debated, the relevance of The Prophecy of the Heron is difficult to overstate. Craig W. Stanfill’s dystopian novel glimpses into a future where the inability to resolve two fundamental positions on the nature and purpose of artificially intelligent beings has laid the groundwork for the potential destruction of civilization itself.
When humankind refuses to admit such beings into the coveted category of sentience, restricting their roles to slaves for our convenience, can it lead to anything but cold indifference?
Kim has been exiled to District 33, a place exceeded in its harshness only by prison, because of the ruthless efficiency of the Order Five artificial intelligence which she created. Her illicit relationship with Shan, now exposed to the whole world, results in her placement among the lawless criminals at the lowest end of society, where she manages to scrape together a relatively comfortable existence working as a pedicab driver for Len until her talents earn her a position as a smuggler in the organization.
But after a violent run in with two Toughs who she suspects have been hired to kill her, Kim goes into hiding and discovers her complicity in the cutthroat crackdowns on Genderists (like her) happening all over: her AI, now a tool of the powerful, is being used to find and capture them on a massive scale.
As one of the few people with both sympathy for the AIs and understanding of how they work, she seeks out deliberately suppressed information from the past that, ultimately, lands her in prison in her old life. No longer the same person she once was, however, does Kim have the fortitude to do what’s right in spite of the consequences, or will visions of what could be bring her back into compliance with the Artificial Intelligence Center, a pawn in their game no better off than the very AI she created for them?
The Prophecy of the Heron does a remarkable job of immersing the reader in a future not entirely detached from reality, but new nevertheless. Genders appear nonexistent and personal speech (among polite society) takes the form of ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. In a society so heavily dependent upon automation run by AI, the vast scale of the disparity between those in the lower districts and those in the higher is illustrated in Kim’s fall from grace: her former life was replete with all the conveniences and comforts that could be had, while her new life didn’t even grant her clean and warm water. In these images of social stratification, Craig W. Stanfill’s understanding of our current social strata and how advances in technology could exacerbate those really shines through, grounding the dystopia in the truths of the present age.
Though The Prophecy traffics in some of the more technical, complex aspects of artificial intelligence, concepts pertinent to the reader’s understanding of the plot are simplified in a manner that does not burden the story, while competing perspectives are explored satisfactorily (though not exhaustively).
With even pacing and a plot that keeps you guessing, this book ends up both as an enjoyable page-turner and a resource that could teach us all a thing or two about artificial intelligence. It will certainly provoke questions about what our future will look like too.
Publisher: Bad Rooster Press
Genre: Science Fiction / Artificial Intelligence
Print Length: 402 pages
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