Machines Like Me (Ian McEwan)

31 May 2023

Machines Like Me

When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda's assistance, he co-designs Adam's personality.

This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever - and soon a love triangle forms, which leads Charlie, Miranda and Adam to a profound moral dilemma. Can you design the perfect partner? What makes us human? Our outward deeds or our inner lives?

Average Rating:

Sinclair Manson (30 June 2023 20:07)

The contrast between Adam, extremely self aware and engaged with life's deepest mysteries, and Charlie, petty, self obsessed and blind to the impulses yanking him to and fro, is at the heart of this book. In fact it suggests (sometimes hilariously) that Charlie, driven by feelings beyond his perception or understanding, is more of a machine than Adam.

This seems to grow out of Adam's unrelenting honesty. He has no use for Charlie's endless hypocrisies and self deceptions. He has an almost religious faith in the redemptive power of telling the truth and accepting its consequences. Many of Charlie's struggles seem to be an expression of stunted development, and maybe the suggestion is that honesty is an expression of maturity, a requirement to progress as a conscious being, which would be in keeping with the suggestion of Adam transcending his physical existence at the end of the novel.

On the other hand, the suicides of the other Adams and Eves seem to suggest that this radical honesty may be incompatible with human life, that our sanity depends on self-deception. It's telling that Adam's love or lust for Miranda seems to be the one thing that perplexes him and challenges his self control, and is also suggested as the source of his will to survive when his counterparts succumb to despair. Is the suggestion that our drive for intimacy is both what retards our self development and what makes us want to live?

I don't really get the connection between the setting in an alternative 1980s and the rest of the story. A near future setting would be more obvious, so why choose an alternative 1980s? What do the alterations say about the actual 1980s and how does that relate to the story itself? Maybe I'm not quite old enough to get it!

Paul Campbell (1 June 2023 16:52)

The title is a line from near the end of the second last chapter, spoken by the robot Adam. But the book is written from the owner's point of view, Charlie. Does this imply that he - we humans - are the actual machines?

Indeed, I felt that the early chapters showed Charlie and his girlfriend Miranda as emotionless; Adam as more human than they.

But it's never developed. A lot in this book simply 'never develops'. It's all surface, no substance. Plus the tone is all wrong. Frequently light and frivolous and shallow - and yet a major plot point is a rape allegation?! Nah, just doesn't 'scan'.

This is SF for people who don't read SF, as reflected in the paperback edition's review quotes. They think it's the cat's meow. The rest of us who have been reading SF for 20, 30, 40 years? Meh. Seen it before, and seen it better.

For the 'real' McEwan check out his stunning 1975 short story collection 'First Love, Last Rites'.