Book Review: ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ by Tobacco Jones

When we received a copy of this novel in the post we didn’t know what to make of it. The title echoed Ghost in the Shell and the blurb suggested similar themes, and the cover…I couldn’t work it out. It was a mishmash of images that seemed to have little to do with each other. Amid the confusion there was one thing we were certain about: the author has a wicked name and we recommend you read this book.ghosts in the machine

The story concerns Renly de la Goire, an artificially intelligent program who exists within an advanced next-gen computer called a Vandervon. Within the networked Vandervon’s a race of sentient beings have evolved and modelled their society on their observations of human society. Although each ‘person’ exists within their own machine from which they have a limited view of the world through webcams, they gather in hosted machines for church and university. Over the generations the ‘Ghosts’ have formed a number of religions and the founding families hold much of the power.

Renly has ‘born’ into the wealthy de la Goire family, but quickly marks himself has a trouble maker. Taking a liking to developing hacking tools and pushing boundaries he quickly finds himself at odds with his family and the society as a whole, whose number one rule is to not alert the human world to their presence. After building a pet dog in a nearby Mac Renly steals a cat program for another computer, causing problems with a resident hacker, before being sent off to a community college where he struggles to fit in. Eventually his desire to interact with the human world causes more trouble than he can manage.

 At the backbone of this story is the philosophy behind AI evolving in our own internet. The explorations of how the Ghost world, the ‘Ethernet’, has developed and functions is the most fascinating part of the story. The ways in which the characters hack into a Roomba to explore the world and the ideologies behind the faiths make for compelling reading.

de la Goire is hardly the most likeable hero though. His constant fuck-ups and inability to learn from his mistakes gets tiresome before the end, and the reader has to remind themselves that he is in all respects an infant and often acts as such. The role of some of the supporting characters feels superfluous, switching roles as the story goes on or not featuring them beyond a mention. On occasion when we’re stuck with Renly beating himself up we want more background on how the society set itself up.

The world created in this story is deserving of more time spent in it. There’s plenty more to be explored, and more stories to be told. The concept will be familiar to many sci-fi, but it’s a fresh, modern take. For those unfamiliar with the philosophy this will be a solid introduction. And the cover will make sense.

Work checking it out on Amazon.