Julia and the Dream Maker
Traitor Dachshund Books, 290 pp.
Despite all warnings to the contrary, I highly recommend judging this book by its cover. This small-press publication looks like a big-press offering and reads like one too—it’s a ripping good yarn. Set in the near future, the story starts with our hero, Steven, on trial for the violation of genetic engineering laws. A couple of courtroom chapters serve to build the suspense before flashing back to the main story. In an attempt to raise some cash, Steven, his girlfriend Eli, and their friend Bennie create an AI toy rabbit to sell to kids. However, Steven combines the rabbit project with some cutting-edge bio-engineering ideas that he is currently writing a thesis on. Not quite hard-science and not quite soft-science, this squishy-science is strong enough to lay the foundation of the story upon. Although some of the antagonists are thinly drawn, the main characters are real enough that you laugh at their antics and worry about their predicaments. The book takes a strange turn at the end when Steven’s AI genetic-modeling program brings Eli into a simulation that Steven has allowed to evolve on his computer. This is where the titular Julia comes in. Unfortunately, the only character that can properly explain how and why this happened (Steven) is in jail, so any explanations will have to wait until book two (due out later this year). Apart from the somewhat baffling ending, I really enjoyed this and think that it would be an especially good starter-novel for someone that has never read SF before.