by Steven James
((very good; top 50% of SciThri)
Publication date: November 5, 2013
Category: suspense with science / technology / intellectual themes
Tech rating (out of 5):
Summary (from the publisher):
Jevin Banks is searching for a killer – and answers to terrifying questions he never even thought to ask.
When his friend is murdered, illusionist Jevin Banks is determined to find out what really happened. Drawn deep into a web of conspiracy and top-secret research on human consciousness, Jevin won’t stop digging until the truth is revealed. Soon he uncovers a dark secret that could change the very fabric—and future—of human life on the planet.
Based on frightening scientific realities and bristling with mystery, suspense, and intrigue, Singularity is the riveting sequel to Placebo.
Singularity (The Jevin Banks Experience Book #2) is a thinking person’s suspense novel. Author Steven James once again demonstrates his superior skills at creating a sense of foreboding, along with thoughtful exploration of profound philosophical issues related to technology and transhumanism.
Singularity is the second book following Steven James’ intriguing protagonist Jevin Banks. Banks is an illusionist and escape artist, of the caliber that he has his own headline show in Las Vegas. His ability to get out of (literally) tight places proves useful. Supplemented with TaeKwonDo hand-to-hand combat skills and a large bank account, he’s a bit of a superhero, albeit one perpetually subdued by melancholy. (In the opening chapter of the first Jevin Banks novel, Placebo, the reader learned about the death of his wife and children.) Banks is a character with heart and soul, and he is surrounded by a wonderful cast of associates, too. His “day” job–doing death-defying escapes on stage–allows the author to inject plenty of tension and foreshadowing, not to mention creating sets loaded with dramatic possibility.
In the first two chapters/scenes of the novel, author Steven James managed to make me gasp or quail in horror not once but twice. Impressive, especially since he’s not the kind of writer to use cheap graphic horror for shock. Let’s just say he knows how to make use of the things we fear most. Snakes and scalpels are are both good material to start with.
The plot of Singularity is convoluted and not the book’s strongest point. Individual scenes are masterfully written but the overriding plot thrust–Jevin Banks’ hunt for a killer–is lost in the complexity of villains and subplots which are not entirely believable, nor are they resolved in a clear way. The story’s villains are far less interesting than Banks and his friends. The main villains are psychopathic and unsympathetic. In particular the hypersexualized female assassin is a too-familiar type.
So why is this book a science thriller? The title “singularity” refers to, as the author says, the time (perhaps in the middle of this century) when “machines reach strong artificial intelligence–that is, they’re able to have emotional intelligence, language acquisition, and pattern recognition on the same level as human beings.” In other words, when our machines become like us, and may be self-aware. As a popular concept, the singularity is closely related to transhumanism, which is the flip side of the same coin. Instead of making machines more like us, transhumanism is about making humans more like machines. It’s begun already, as we use mechanical and electronic devices to replace broken human parts like hip joints and heart valves. There is no theoretical limit on how far we can go, both to correct “disease” and to enhance native human capabilities with something superior.
James spends a fair amount of time letting his characters discuss the implications of the singularity and transhumanism. These discussions are related to the plot, sort of, but they should be read as fascinating in their own right. (If you enjoy this sort of thing, Mark Alpert’s page-turner Extinction treads the same waters.)
Key words: transhumanism; piranha; C4 tetraplegic; locked-in syndrome; Las Vegas; drone; RixoTray; progeria; mummy dust; Area 51; immortal jellyfish; Aubrey DeGrey; Groom Lake; Zetas
Steven James is not one to be “typed”. This novel contains adult imagery (sex, violence, and sexualized violence) as well as an authentic Christian church service.