I don’t often write book reviews. I used to, but when I became an author I found it increasingly hard to be impartial. But I finished this book a few hours ago and I keep thinking about it. Some mild spoilers follow, but I’ve stayed away from really specific plot points. It’s a book that will stay with me. I think Cassandra and I must have similar taste, because this is so exactly my cup of tea.
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is hard to pin down. If I had to give it an elevator pitch, I’d say it’s about a girl who falls in love with an android that’s a bit like Data from Star Trek, but written in the literary tone of Margaret Atwood.
It’s a book that’s light on the science fiction and heavy on story and characters. Say all of the events in this book really happened—the unnamed Disasters that caused civilization to fall and rebuild itself. This is a book that would be written in that world as modern literature for the inhabitants of that world. Does that make sense? It’s written as if we live in that world already. So if you’re looking for a book with heavy science fiction elements, they are not here.
Robots are common—as nurses, as workers. But androids with such a level of sentience like Finn are not. He’s one of a kind. When Cat is six, her father, a brilliant cyberneticist, brings him home. At first, he scares Cat and she thinks he’s a ghost. And then he becomes her tutor, and her friend. And eventually, more. It follows Cat’s life, and how Fin is a constant, even if he’s not there.
It’s a love story that shouldn’t work. Finn grew up with Cat (naturally, he doesn’t age), and he was her tutor. In some ways Dr Novak, the “mad scientist” is like a father to Finn, too. So in that respect it’s odd, and perhaps a little wrong. But I found those elements didn’t put me off as much as I thought they would. I felt for Finn and Cat.
The book focuses on Cat. Sometimes, Finn is missing for large portions of the book. Time passes. The story starts with Cat at six and ends when she’s in her thirties, so there are huge skips of time between certain chapters. Cat grew up as an only child, left to run wild along the flowers. She’s selfish, but not in a deliberate way. And that selfishness and inability to really connect with others follows her into adulthood. She floats through life. She’s a daughter of a rich scientist. She studies philosophy, which is especially antiquated in a world where everyone studies engineering, and works part-time as a cigarette seller, or a vice girl. Occasionally, she weaves tapestries. She doesn’t have a fierce drive and she’s always introspective and a little melancholy. Because she’s not whole.
There are friends, but none of them have a deep bond with her. She doesn’t have any close female friends. And with men, she’s like an android that is incapable of love. One calls her an ice queen. She dates them because she feels like she should, but she doesn’t love them. She loves Finn, who she thinks can never love her in return because he’s a machine.
The book touches on so much—what is humanity? What is consciousness? What is love? It examines selfishness and how painful it can be to others even if it’s unintentional. And yet it also shows the consequences of not being selfish enough to be true to yourself and your feelings, of being too afraid to reach out for what you desperately want more than anything else.
Full of beautiful, melancholy prose that paints a strange, new future where the summers are too hot and the winters are too cold, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a gorgeous book. Read it to find out what happens to Finn and Cat, who will get under your skin.