The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Book review

scientistsTHE MAD SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Angry Robot Books, Paperback £8.99, eBook £5.49 400pp

Reviewed by Chris Limb

When Cat is only five years old, her father brings a ghost called Finn back to their house in the countryside, a ghost who is to become her tutor despite her mother’s concerns. After a while Cat realises that Finn is not a ghost but an android and her initial fear and distrust metamorphose into what she thinks of as friendship. It is only when she starts having contact with the outside world that she realises that Finn is unique. Nevertheless despite the disapproval of society at large Finn remains very important to Cat and central to her life. But as she grows up the questions remain…

Are the feelings she has for Finn reciprocated or is this all in her own head? Is she using him just as much as those who think of him as only a machine?

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is first and foremost a beautifully written tale of a child growing up into a young woman. Cat is a totally engaging and believable person at every stage in her life, as flawed and complex as any real woman, making both good and bad choices when faced with the challenges that life throws at her. Her inner thoughts and feelings are convincingly portrayed and it is the strength of her character that enhances one of the central themes of the book – how much our feelings for other people are based upon our idea of them rather than the actual reality.

Finn is always seen through Cat’s eyes and is therefore, despite his unchanging physical appearance, a constantly developing presence in the novel as both Cat and the reader learn more about him, his background and what he may or may not really be feeling.

The near-future setting of the story is utterly credible as a prediction of what life at the close of the twenty first century may really be like, the world building restrained and genuine.  What gives it such strength is the way that the SF elements never take centre stage and are taken for granted by Cat, her family and her peers. This is a society rebuilding itself after a series of unspecified Disasters, our only clues that these were ecological coming both from the clever way their threads are woven into the narrative and from our knowledge of trends in the real world outside the novel.

The insidious march of technology throughout a person’s life is also reflected here – as an adult the world Cat faces is markedly different from the one in which she grew up. However, the gradual nature of such changes are as subtle here as they are in reality, despite the increasingly Asimovian world in which Cat finds herself as an adult.

But notwithstanding the themes of consciousness, sentience and emancipation that interweave the novel, when it comes down to it The Mad Scientists Daughter is a love story, albeit one that also explores the very nature of love and relationships between people, be they organic or electronic.

It is also a gripping tale that refuses to release the reader until the last page and then leaving them bereft that it is all over.