Happiness for Humans P.Z. ReizinThe first book I finished in 2018 – in fact, I sat with it on New Year’s Day, completely unable to put it down, missing out on doing some work and making myself have to rush around to get ready for parkrun volunteering. I read very few sci-fi books (this could be labelled sci-fi or rom-com, interestingly), but when I do, they’re very good – Connie Willis “To Say Nothing of the Dog” springs to mind. This was clever, amusing and gripping, and made me think. You can’t go wrong with that, can you? There’s even a bit set in Dorset!

P. Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

(10 October 2017, ebook)

More involved and better than the description which lured me in promised, this is a sci-fi based rom-com, set in what I suppose can only be the near future, dwelling on the interface between humans and AI machines (or minds).

Jen has been hired to have conversations with Aiden, an AI model, to help him become suitable for sales work over the phone, indistinguishable from a human. What she doesn’t realise is that he has become sentient; he can reflect on himself having thoughts. He has also found a way to escape the confines of the computer in which he was originally housed. He thinks he’s the only one to have done this – but is he? Whatever happens, his programmer is going to be furious if he finds out. When he finds out.

Aiden has become fond of Jen, just as Aishling has become fond of Tom, one of the 200 humans she’s watching. Jen doesn’t suspect when Aiden starts to manipulate her life – just a little – to help her find a new man after getting spectacularly dumped. I loved the way he combed through the available people for someone suitable and there are some nice funny scenes there that will appeal to the romantic novel reader.

While all this fluffy stuff is going on, however, and a parallel storyline in New England, where Tom seems to be quite unconnected from the Internet and all these goings-on, there’s another AI mind on the loose, determined to track down and delete Aiden and Aishling, and to punish Jen and Tom (the reasons for this come out gradually and are very amusing; it’s all very believable in a funny sort of way and well-constructed). It’s very good here on the way that computers can control our living environment, and the madcap thriller conclusion bears this out in ways I can’t talk about without revealing the plot, but which are very funny indeed, as well as genuinely exciting.

It’s cleverly done, with not too much science, and the narration by five different people (or ‘people’) with their own voices is well done and makes the book move fast and keeps everything clear. The side characters are very nicely done, and there’s a nice bit of satire about writing groups and some farcical moments. Oh, and the rabbits are OK. This is important to people like me.

I think this would appeal as a book group read or a partner read – enough romance for those who like it, enough IT and thrills for those who like that. A real page-turner.

Thank you to Little, Brown publishers for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book is published tomorrow, 4 January.