logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Plum
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-07-26 18:05
"Plum Rains" by Andromeda Romano-Lax - an emotionally rich journey for two women and an AI in a near-future Japan
Plum Rains: A Novel - Andromeda Romano-Lax

I picked up "Plum Rains" because the premise interested me: a near-future Japan where longevity is rising, fertility is falling and the Japanese, dependent on immigrants for many personal services, start to introduce AI-driven robots that grow and learn as they interact with their owners.

 

I'd imagined a clever SF exploration of the ethics of AI and the relationship between server and served.

 

I got all of that but I'm also got a very human tale about the youth of a woman reaching one hundred who is now a respected Tokyo matron but started as a mixed-race aboriginal on Taiwan and about a Filipino nurse, alone in Japan, trying to work off her debt. 

I supposed I shouldn't be surprised. Some of the best writing about AI taps into deep emotions: "Speak" by Louisa Hall and "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore are great examples.

 

What distinguishes "Plum Rains" is how strongly the imagined Japan of 2029 is fed by its deep roots in Japanese history over the past century and that the story is told from different Asian cultural viewpoints.

 

The language is beautiful in its accurate simplicity. The empathy and compassion with which the two woman are treated and the nuanced way in which their changing understand or their past, present, future and each other is handled make this a very human book.

 

There are hard issues in this book: the brutal way women are treated, our inability or at least unwillingness to confront hard truths, the crippling impact of shame, the compelling drive of motherhood, the emotional stunting that results from isolation, chosen or forced, and the freedom that comes from recognising that we are not irreplaceable. They form the emotional and ethical meat of the novel. The role of the AI in the book is mainly to provide an empathetic ear to the two women and to help them focus on the decision that will help them become the people they want to be. 

 

I was impressed by the understanding shown in the book of what an AI might become in ten years time and the ethical and practical challenges that their existence would present. I liked the fact that while the AI is presented positively as a sentient entity growing towards maturity, it is never seen as simply a digital human. Its intelligence, its motivations and its agenda are influenced by the people who made it but not defined by them. There are points when the AI seems more humane than the humans around him but that simply highlights how deluded we are willing to be about what it means to be human. There are also points where the AI is shown as a clear threat to the employment of some of the most vulnerable people in society. I liked that this threat was confirmed rather than dispelled but that it arises because those who make the employment decisions see workers as commodities and see robots as better and cheaper commodities.

 

Unlike the author, I know almost nothing of Asian culture, so I can't speak to the authenticity of what's presented here but I can see how different the expectations and outcomes are than they would be of a similar book set in the West. Both of the women in the book accept that the world is a harsh place where they often cannot control damaging things that are done to them or that they have to do. They have no expectation of a happy-ever-after. They understand duty and family but they recognise that they may not be able to live up the demands of either. Yet they are strong. They persevere. They take the moments of life-affirming sweetness where they find them, without any expectation that they will last.

 

I think this last expectation is what the title "Plum Rains" refers to. At one point the Filipina nurse recalls the story her mother had told of what giving birth to her had meant:

"She had grown in her belly during the plum rains, that long period of rainy, moldy misery that ends, finally, in something good: summer, when the skies briefly clear again, before the typhoons come. You were the good thing, small and sweet, that comes after a long period of difficulty."

That concept of transitory happiness, made more valuable by being ephemeral, seems realistic to me. It's something that I've seen built-in to French culture, yet it is deeply at odds with the Anglo obsession with the pursuit of happiness.

 

This was a wonderful book. It made me think and it made me cry. My only criticism is that the pace of the first third of the book was slower than my Western reading habits have led me to expect. I stuck with it and I'm very glad that I did. "Plum Rains" now joins my (very short list) of the best AI speculative fiction.

 

About Andromeda Romano-Lax

 

ebe175_2ca9c44c5f13458eb6dee16801e6ae1a.jpgAndromeda's website says:

 

"Originally from Chicago and now a resident of Vancouver Island, Canada, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction.

 

Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012 and her third novel, Behave, was published in 2016.

Her fourth novel, Plum Rains, drew inspiration from her family's experience living in rural Taiwan in 2014."

 

 

Publisher's summary

"In a tour-de-force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress and destruction.

 

2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at an all-time low and the elderly are living increasingly longer lives. This population crisis has precipitated the mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia, as well as the development of finely tuned artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short.

 

In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse works as caretaker for Sayoko Itou, a moody, secretive woman about to turn 100 years old. When Sayoko receives a cutting-edge robot “friend” that will teach itself to anticipate Sayoko’s every need, Angelica fears for her livelihood. But more than a mere job is at stake, especially given the robot's  preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it.

 

PLUM RAINS is a hundred-year saga of forbidden love, hidden identities, the legacy of colonialism and the future of our relationships in a distracted and uncertain world. "

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-07-17 19:08
Reading progress update: I've read 50%. - sadder and more complex than I expected
Plum Rains: A Novel - Andromeda Romano-Lax

I picked up "Plum Rains" because the premise interested me: a near-future Japan where longevity is rising, fertility is falling and the Japanese, dependent on immigrants for many personal services, start to introduce AI-driven robots that grow and learn as they interact with their owners.

 

I'd imagined a clever SF exploration of the ethics of AI and the relationship between server and served.

 

I got all of that but I'm also getting a very human tale about the youth of a woman reaching one hundred who is now a respected Tokyo matron but started as a mixed-race aboriginal on Taiwan and about a Filipino nurse, alone in Japan, trying to work off her debt.

 

I supposed I shouldn't be surprised. Some of the best writing about AI taps into deep emotions: "Speak" by Louisa Hall and "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore are great examples.

 

The added dimension in "Plum Rains" is that the point of view is Asian rather than European.

 

This is not a fast read but it is a rewarding one.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-07-14 23:15
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Plum Rains: A Novel - Andromeda Romano-Lax

It is 2029 and the first world is troubled by an aging population compounded by a worldwide fertility crisis. In Japan this crisis has led to the importation of immigrant workers to care for the elderly, but the culture and the politics make it incredibly difficult for workers. All are required to pass rigorous language tests if they wish to stay in the country. The development of smart technology and robots are also being used to cover the needs of a less and less able-bodied population.

Angelica Navarro is a nurse for an elderly woman, Sayoko, in Tokyo, her job seemingly secure because of Sayoko's resistance to most modern medical appliances. Then, Sayoko's son gives her a new kind of care-giving robot with sympathetic technology that allows it to educated itself on its owner's needs. Angelica can only watch as a bond begins growing between the two and fear what will happen to her.

This is one of the better near-future novels I've ever read. It immerses the reader into modern life in Tokyo through Angelica's forced "outsider" perspective. Chapters from Sayoko give perspective on how Japanese culture adapted, or failed to adapt, after World War II and the upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I was a little frustrated at first with Angelica's antagonistic relationship with Hiro (the caregiver robot), but it is completely understandable once more of Angelica's background is revealed. Sayoko's seeming lack of compassion is settled as well. This book covers some complicated, fraught ground of race, globalization, ethical technology, pollution, and more with grace. There are no neat endings and people who are being victimized do not always make judgements that satisfy a reader. This was a great sociological science fiction novel, and I'm waiting for it to make greater waves in reader's circles in the coming months.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-06-05 03:28
Sweet Dreams Are Made of Bees
Dreamfall - Amy Plum

Just kidding. There are no bees in this story. But I love that weird joke. Anyway, finished this one last night, just forgot to review it. 

 

Dreamfall is summed up as Inception meets Nightmare on Elm Street. How on earth was I supposed to refuse that? Seven teenagers are offered the chance of a lifetime: To be able to sleep again. All chronic insomniacs for one reason or another, they agree to participate in a highly experimental trial that'll help them sleep again. Of course, something goes wrong, and the seven find themselves in a shared dream world where their nightmares come to life. And, much like in the case of Mr. Kreuger, if you die in the dream...Well, you know how it goes. 

 

I really enjoyed this one. Plum has an incredible talent for building suspense and tension. There were so many points in the story where I wanted to stop listening but couldn't because I HAD to know what happened next. There was some awkward sitting in the car moments. The characters all felt fairly solid. Nothing spectacular but I liked them well enough. Ant was my favorite. Just adorable. 

 

The biggest drawback to the story is it's kind of predictable. I knew there was something up with George from the moment she was introduced (I think the prologue pretty much gives her deal away), knew something would be up with Sinclaire, etc. It wasn't horribly predictive, just enough that I couldn't help but roll my eyes. 

 

The other drawback is the writing can be a little amateurish at times. The character names, some of the dialogue, etc. It wasn't horrible and it might only irk me because I'm not in high school anymore, but there were times where it felt like it was written by a high schooler. A talented high schooler, but one none the less. 

 

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5. Very enjoyable and suspenseful and I plan on checking out Neverwake when it's released. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2018-06-02 10:34
Dreamfall - Amy Plum

Listening to this one on Overdrive. I’ve fallen back into such bad reading habits that I figure audiobooks are a must if I want to reach my reading goal. Plus it makes for a good time at work and the commute.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?