A Human Wrote This Book Review. A.I. Wrote the Book.

A detective, in the form of a Firmin scholar, is beavering around. The A.I. program Firmin and Gibson were working on begins impersonating the suspects. Who is real? Is Firmin seeking revenge from beyond the grave? Is the scholar being framed? Is someone out to kill him? What does it mean to be an “author” anyway? And so on.

I am not a big reader of mysteries, and I rarely care who’s done it. “Death of an Author” is clever, for sure, but it left me feeling hollow, as if I’d made a meal out of red herrings. The prose mostly has the crabwise gait of a Wikipedia entry. If this novel could exhale, its breath would surely smell, to borrow words from Ian McEwan in his novel “Machines Like Me,” like the back of a warm TV set.

What’s interesting are the moments when you sense Marche pushing the A.I., like Wendy Carlos bent over her Moog synthesizer, or a kid rocking a pinball machine, to go deeper. Firmin predicts, for example, where we might be in a few years with this technology:

We’ll also see stories created specifically for individuals inside their experience, the ability to recreate dead relatives through A.I. technology. Stories where the audience doesn’t even know they’re stories. Characters who are felt so deeply that they aren’t characters at all, but you become the character. It’s going to be a gorgeous mess.

Gorgeous might not be the word I’d choose.

It’s hard to tell when you’re reading Marche and when you’re reading A.I., but it’s good to know there might still be humor, of a sort, in the spell-checked world of our digital-language overlords. There’s a crack about the awfulness of the metaverse, and a letter has the sexy sign-off “Desiring your algorithm.”

The figurative language is hit-and-mostly-miss. (“The smell of coffee was like a fog burning off a field.”) Bots must get lonely too. This book declares, against all dictates of sense, that “even the most delicious cake is unpleasant eaten alone.”

Marche convincingly makes the case, in an afterword, that writers will manipulate A.I. the way that hip-hop producers dig up and arrange samples. Those with the best taste, and the most knowledge, will make the best stuff, some with a genius all its own.

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