Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Waterdown by Anastasia Slabucho

Waterdown by Anastasia Slabucho
Published by AS Publishing on the 22nd September 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Geo Spears thought her legacy would put her above humanity. She had created Fusion A.I., the superintelligence that saved mankind from itself. Poverty, pollution, crime and war—all gone. The solution was simple—people’s minds just had to be whitewashed… watered down.

By 2135, few human wants, wishes, instincts or memories remained. But this was also the year Geo Spears’ longevity treatment failed. She had weeks to live, at most. Cast out by Fusion and faced for the first time with mortality, her past betrayal of family becomes entangled with the present of those she learns to hold dear. Geo is confronted with the true cost of her A.I. creation. And the one remaining path to absolution.

My initial idea of Waterdown, gleaned from its cover art, was some kind of outer space adventure because I misinterpreted the light points as stars. Waterdown is actually set in a grim future incarnation of Los Angeles - a city where our present-day blights of pollution and crime have been almost consigned to history, but where one's life choices are significantly constrained by implanted artificial intelligence devices. I loved the idea of the 'choice' that Slabucho inflicts upon her characters. There are two spheres of human existence: Temporals lose much of their free choice and short term memory, but can experience human emotions and social interaction. Permanents have enhanced memory capacity and are immortal, but also live socially isolated lives. Neither, I thought, would be a good life for me!

Waterdown manages to be both exciting and thoughtful which is a difficult balance to maintain successfully. I liked Geo as a character - even though she is a basically unlikeable person! - and appreciated her internal struggles when she realises that her life's work isn't the great achievement she had always believed it to be. Her soul-searching makes for poignant moments, especially when linked to her childhood memories. This introspection is countered with Geo's need to atone for her mistakes and quickly. Slabucho gives readers lots of tension in her well-paced novel as Geo begins to walk on the dark side of her perfect society.

I think Slabucho's portrayals of the various interpersonal relationships were my high spot of Waterdown, although I also appreciated her visualisations of Los Angeles. Even the AI, Fusion, appears to have a personality, and supporting characters such as lively teenager Air add a good sense of levity to prevent Waterdown from becoming too serious a read. I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed reading this novel and look forward to discovering more of Slabucho's work in the future.

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  1. I would've made the same assumptions based on the cover. This definitely sounds a bit more cerebral for my taste, piqued my interest, regardless.

    1. It's more of a thoughtful scifi than a pure action novel, although it does have its fair share of exciting scenes

  2. I wouldn't want to have to choose either option either. This one intrigues me a lot! I would love to see this world which is LA polluted and ruined (seems like we are heading there...) and I would like to see what kind of messages come across in the world she has set up. It seems like it would be very thought provoking with those two options and seeing what characters do with their freedom (or lack of) choice.

    1. Parts of the LA setting were very futuristic and others were scarily close to how it actually is today!