My thoughts on Klara and the Sun, long listed for the Booker Prize 2021 and touted as a hot favorite to win the award.
Set in a futuristic world of genetic enhancements, replacement of white collar workers with technology, and sentient humanoids, Klara and the Sun is the story of Klara – an AF (artificial friend) – a companion robot for teens. She is bought as a companion to Josie – a teenager who is sick after “lifting” – a process of genetically enhancing children, and need help and attention. A solar powered robot, Klara believes that the sun has the power to cure Josie and goes to great lengths to get sun’s nourishment for her. Once well, Josie no longer needs Klara and abandons her with relative ease.
First person narrated by Klara, the tone is of an outsider observer gradually discovering the milieu, the characters, their desires and motives, their flaws and their interpersonal dynamics. This is a world still grappling with the social disruption caused by new technologies, there are casual mentions of the new norms of this world – lifting children, substitution of workers with technology, children having designated parties to learn social skills, formation of communities to resist technology, and, discrimination towards unlifted children. The focus, however, remains on people, resulting in a tale about unconditional love and loneliness resulting from such a love. Klara is willing to sacrifice her completely and become Josie AF – a macabre idea from Josie’s mother, who has already lost a daughter and feels that she cannot survive losing another, and wants Klara to observe and learn Josie, so that after she is gone, Klara can be uploaded to a Josie look-alike AF and continue to live as Josie with her.
Based on her belief that Sun can cure Josie, Klara makes a pact with the Sun that results in some personal sacrifices to keep her end of the bargain (Is this this first time we have a superstitious robot?).
On one side, she is called a vacuum cleaner, and in a party children want to throw her around to see if she lands as well as the latest model and on the other side she is asked her permission to be used in a certain way – this world still has established the protocol to deal with intelligent robots. Josie eventually gets well and Klara ends up in a yard, with other electronic junk, reminiscing about her days with Josie and the family. She seems content. But was she happy? Was the world fair to her? Does fairness mean anything to a robot?
‘It must be nice sometimes to have no feelings. I envy you’. I considered this, then said: ‘I believe I have many feelings. the more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.’
‘Until recently, I didn’t think that humans could choose loneliness. That there were sometimes forces more powerful that the wish to avoid loneliness.’
Buy Klara and the SUN here: https://amzn.to/3l7RWhU
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