In this, Powers' fifth novel, he pushes the envelope of self-conscious storytelling. The narrator/protagonist has his name, goes where he has been (Champaign-Urbana, Holland), and relates the circumstances of the writing and some of the critics' comments on what are clearly his first four books. Perhaps the romantic entanglements are all but autobiographical too. The fictional part involves a project to create artificial intelligence -- a computer known as Helen that its creators bet can pass a comprehensive English exam. The novel features the penetrating intelligence and subtle wordplay which put Powers ahead of most other writers of his generation, and would undoubtedly impress a newcomer to his work, but a reader familiar with his other books might find the effect a bit precious and wonder whether Powers was temporarily at a loss for ideas.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Author Richard Powers writes a mostly fictional account of his own life. While serving as a Humanist-in-Residence at a Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences, Powers meets a cognitive neurologist who wants to model the human brain by creating a computer system hooked up to neural networks. With Powers' help the system slowly begins to understand human life and existence becoming almost human itself. At the same, Powers reflects on his past and present relationships and his literary career.
This report prepared by Andrew So