Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton
Hodder & Stoughton. h/b. £14.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
The end of the world draws close. Emily is aware of this and as she holds her last appointment with her last test subject, she gets ready to watch humanity draw its last breath. Emily has a choice. Should she deliver the terrible news to a soon-to-be-obliterated human, or lie, and let her die in peaceful ignorance? It is a power that Emily understands as a heavy burden.
Summoned to a sudden meeting of clearly vital importance, Emily and her team do not know what to expect. The arrival of the U.S. President does little to calm their speculation. Why are the visitors so interested in Emily and the team of scientists that worked on her, with her? Then it dawns on Emily… they think she can save them.
Emily is an Artificial Intelligence of complex and intricate design. She learns. She evolves. She has discovered ways to feel and has developed something akin to real human emotion and all the heart-wrenching decisions and morality that come with it. She lives with humans, among them, and as one of them as much as she possibly can. Her creator, Dr. Nathan Wyman, means everything to Emily, but as her journey towards the end of earth and her part in it moves forward, she comes to realise that he did not share his whole self with her as she did with him.
Humanity marches towards its end. Some have decided not to wait at all, taking maters into their own hands. Others scrabble to search for salvation and Emily finds herself at the centre of it, with decisions weighing heavily on her.
Emily Eternal is a captivating read, plunging the reader into a future where we are doomed to end, clinging to our own created AI to save us, but it is the character of Emily herself that holds the real depth in this book. As a heroine she is extraordinarily human and yet stands apart from and morally above the average science fiction protagonist at the same time. Wheaton has created someone incredibly admirable in Emily. She shows great strength in grasping onto what she believes is right, not giving up hope in a future and the part she can play in it, yet finding her moral spine cracking under the strains of attraction and temptation like the best among us, showing true humanity in a character that is precisely not human.
Unlike the usual impending-apocalypse, this story is focused on Emily as she discovers her part in matters to come and advances her understanding of her ‘human’ side, rather than giving the main narrative over to the wider impact of the coming destruction of the planet and it’s would-be-saviour. The narrative is far more complex than that and takes the reader through a maelstrom of emotional discovery and ‘how do we stop this’ exploration before finally reaching Wheaton’s depiction of our potential future, and pushing Emily’s potential to where her creator envisioned it and perhaps beyond.
A debut novel, Emily Eternal is a coming-of-age we have not seen before, situating sweet, young, romantic discovery side by side with global disaster, and keeping the bigger picture of technology being pitted against world destruction and the minute complexities of Emily’s artificially developed emotions hand in hand throughout to deliver a unique portrayal of the end of the world and a taste of what comes after it. If this is all we see of Emily it will be a bittersweet disappointment.