The Mother Code by Carole Stivers – Book Review

Book Title: The Mother Code

Author: Carole Stivers

Genre: Science Fiction, Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian

Blurb from Goodreads

It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. The earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

My Review

Well that ending fell flat on its butt.

I’d been absolutely loving this book until the timelines converged… let’s track back.

The book opens in the near future when a man-made pandemic (biological warfare gone very, very wrong) looks very much like it’s gonna be an extinction level event so bye bye humans, was nice to know you. Honestly if I’d read this last year before the COVID-19 vaccines had been safely tested and approved this would probably have scared the pants off me because ooof does it feel realistic … so yeah it is an ickle bit anxiety inducing given the current state of global affairs.

But anyway, the fact remains that this was so freaking cool. It’s written by a biochemist AND IT SCREAMS AS SUCH! Real science is all incorporated into the science-fiction narrative in an incredibly believable fashion and I totally got my geek on over it. I mean it does feel somewhat inevitable that humankind are gonna screw themselves over with shady biological warfare … unless of course we continue the shambolic rate we are overheating our planet to a state that it’s uninhabitable …. it’s a toss up what’s gonna be our demise as a species but 100% we are gonna be at fault.

Anywho… the book follows two timelines. A sort of before and after the extinction level event.

In the before timeline it’s all about dodgy U.S. government secrecy preventing the general population AND EVEN THE W.H.O. (freaking selfish government tossers) from finding out the truth about the illness’ origin, and follows politically (and militarily) handcuffed scientists trying to find a cure to the illness that is decimating society etc etc. There’s lots of shadiness, lots of science and it’s really gripping to read about. And then there’s the dawning realisation that humanity isn’t gonna survive this so there’s a project to genetically engineer embryos that won’t be affected by the globally rampaging illness but the question is who’s gonna mother these babies… HELLO AI TECHNOLOGY WOOOOO! All in all definitely my favourite timeline / section.

The other timeline is set post the extinction level event and follows some of these genetically engineered kids who are living out in the apocalyptic wilds with their mother robots! Okay I’m making this sound kinda cheesy but it’s actually incredibly thought provoking and philosophical. The question arises about where the line is drawn between humanity, AI, and the relationships that can develop between the two.

So all of this I loved. Loved loved loved. It didn’t kinda matter to me that I never really felt that the characters were all that well written because the marriage of science, philosophy, and government secrecy is incredibly compelling and exciting to read about.

But towards the book’s end when the timelines interwove into what became the climax then the shallowness of the characters was really noticeable. I found that I couldn’t recall who was who because not one character had ever truly come alive for me on the page. Therefore choices made by different characters to sway the plot had no emotional impact on me.

An incredibly brilliant and exciting idea with impeccable world building that challenges how we think about it means to be human… just lacking in heart and emotion that should’ve been provided by memorable and distinctive characters.

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