Author Brian Kacica’s RYAN’S ROBOT explores the rise of artificial intelligence and fears about robots replacing people in a unique modern riff on the Frankenstein story. The sci-fi suspense novel follows the depressed, thrill-seeking illusionist Ryan, who wows crowds under the stage names of Zar the Magnificent or Zar the Great or “whatever he as feeling in the moment”, before vanishing from the limelight after his mother drowns when a riptide drags her into the ocean in Cape Cod. Ryan’s intellectually prodigious father, Victor, an artificial intelligence expert who’s building android “plastics” or “STEMs” for his employer Wardlow Technologies, secretly creates RyN2, an artificial son who looks and thinks just like Ryan to replace him. Ryan then sets out to perform the “greatest feat in the annals of magic” at the beachfront Chimera Theater, by disappearing his doppelganger and bringing his mother back from the dead.
A work of science fiction that feels grounded in the present moment, RYAN’S ROBOT was creatively imagined with intriguing world-building. It’s cleverly plotted with many twists, turns, hidden agendas, ulterior motives, conspiracies, and surprising revelations. Main characters like Ryan, Victor, RyN2 and the Irish mob boss scion and motorcycle-driving love interest, Mia, come across as fully realized people. And Ryan’s grief is deeply felt throughout and a compelling motivation. But while effort was made to give a distinct individuality to members of the supporting cast, like the billionaire CEO Carter Wardlow and Diamondback Jack Kutter, they come across as more cliche, fitting general and predictable templates. References can also be heavy-handed, such as naming the magician’s home town Chimera or the genius, but rouge creator of artificial life, Victor.
Splitting time between human and robotic characters, the book explores many facets of artificial intelligence’s place in the world, from how it would be commercially deployed to the societal backlash. The author thinks through many repercussions of AI infiltrating society and presents interesting ideas, such as an android and cute little robot dog deployed in a public relations campaign to make a closed-minded community more accepting of plastics living in the background. The novel succeeds at building up suspense by putting its characters in real peril. Action scenes impress as creative, the prose conjures up vivid visuals, and the book examines the ethical implications and impacts of androids in the world and the story builds to a satisfying resolution in the end.
Magic and machines meet in RYAN’S ROBOT, which introduces an intriguing and creative premise and delivers a compelling and thoughtful thriller that could be less cluttered, better paced and lighter on exposition.
~Joseph S. Pete for IndieReader