Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Cassandra Rose Clarke has shown her writing chops on many occasions, and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is arguably the one where her talents shine brightest. The story (nominated for the Phillip K. Dick Award) is set in the future and presents us with the life of an isolated family whose father one day brings home an experimental android, Finn, to assist them with various tasks.
One day he begins tutoring the daughter, Cat, and essentially becomes her closest friend and companion as she grows up. As the government grants rights to the android population, Cat finds herself falling in love with Finn, who himself is struggling to find and understand his place in the world.
Table of contents
Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Take on Love and Technology
Love stories have fascinated humanity starting all the way back in ancient times, dealing with a timeless concept with an essence that remains the same age after age from one culture to the next. More often than not, these stories bear a certain reflection on the time in which they were written, on the realities of life that can hardly be communicated through history books and lectures.
They help us understand how people lived, what they coveted and feared. When our descendants will turn their focus towards studying us one day, they too will look at the love stories that defined our age, and (setting 50 Shades of Grey aside) it’s quite likely that The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke will be one of them, or at least part of the genre through the lens of which we will be seen through.
The premise for this story is, in its essence, a rather simple one. We are taken to the future and presented with an American family living a relatively isolated existence. One day, the father brings home Finn, an experimental android designed to help the family with their various tasks and duties. One day those duties begin to include the tutoring of Cat, the daughter of the family. As Cat grows up she finds herself more and more drawn to the android who remains her loyal friend and companion through her trials and tribulations.
However, though he may mimic humans quite impressively, he has no desire to be one or to step out beyond the boundaries of his programming. When Cat finally grows up to be an adult she admits the truth to herself, and to put it bluntly, falls in love with Finn the android. However, murky changes are on the horizon as the government grants more and more rights to the androids, Finn deeply struggles to find his place in the universe and meaning to his existence, and he may finally get separated from Cat for good.
The Complex Relationship Between Man and AI
Though The Mad Scientist’s Daughter may certainly be a love story, it is primarily used as a vehicle for the exploration of the many possibilities that lie in wait when it comes to our relationship with a potential AI, especially one that can pass off as human. Clarke does a remarkable job at building Finn’s character and making us see him as something other than a human imitation or an android… something indescribable that lies in-between the two.
Slowly but surely we come to love and appreciate who he is to Cat and how, in many ways, he proves himself to be better than the humans around him, the perfect person, if only he had interest in being one. A great amount of care is given to the development of the relationship between Cat and Finn over the years, evolving logically and naturally as they begin sharing an unlikely, if not seemingly impossible connection with each other.
There are many questions arising from the path they walk together, as to whether love between Man and sentient machine is possible, the threats human imitators could pose, where programmable machines end and actual artificial intelligence worthy of rights begins. In short, there is more than enough science-fiction food for thought with plenty of ideas you’ll be mulling over for days, if not weeks to come.
Coming of Age in a Robotic Future
If we take a second to look away from the robotic angle, then what we’ll find here is a pretty moving and solid coming-of-age story that covers pretty much all the bases and is driven by characters more than anything. We follow Cat from her younger years up until her middle age, experiencing alongside her all the challenges, joys, troubles and defining moments that shape us forever. She certainly isn’t the perfect human and has her fair share of flaws to contend with, which I believe made her a more believable and enjoyable character to follow.
All of the strangers, friends, enemies, lovers, and family members we get to meet alongside her have something to say, moving the plot along at a steady pace and never allowing for a moment of boredom, a quality heavily complemented by Clarke‘s prose.
The world in which The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is taking place is fascinating enough in its own right and is a place I hope Clarke will revisit one day. There are definitely many familiarities between that world and ours, but the myriad of subtle differences paint a unique picture that slowly forms as the story goes along. There are no long expositions or pages upon pages of descriptions… rather, we get all the information about the world bit by bit as it’s slipped into the various events and conversations that keep the pace going.
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The Final Verdict
While the idea of love happening between a human and an android is certainly nothing new, in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke it’s developed in such engaging fashion that one can’t help but be fascinated with its take on the topic. It’s a dynamic, multifaceted, thought-provoking and compelling story about love, AI, and everything in between. If you’re a cyberpunk fiction fan with an interest for androids or simply looking for an engaging coming-of-age/love story, then you’ll definitely want to give this book a try.
Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cassandra Rose Clarke is a fiction writer who graduated as part of the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop, in addition to which she holds a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. Some of her better-known works include The Assassin’s Curse , The Pirate’s Wish, and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter.