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Virtual Girl, Amy Thomson

July 6, 2012

Virtual Girl, Amy Thomson (1993)
Review by Cheryl Morgan

Virtual Girl is Amy Thomson’s first novel. The title is a bit of a misnomer because, unlike the software constructs in Otherland, Amy’s heroine is a full-blown android. Created as an AI, Molly is downloaded into an artificial body and the book is the story of her efforts to survive in human society. The book is, in effect, Data for grown-ups. Amy eschews the abstruse philosophical debates and cute jokes about emotion chips that beset Star Trek’s efforts to treat the question of artificial life seriously. Instead she focuses on immediate practical issues like how to learn which of the vast flood of inputs that the world presents are worth taking notice of. The only Star Trek like issue is Molly’s need to define her relationship with Arnold, the man who created her but who treats her like a possession. The book is as much an allegory of slavery as anything else.

Allegory indeed is a theme of the book. In an effort to keep his illegal research secret, Arnold lives as a hobo, doing everything he can to keep off official records. When she is accidentally separated from him, Molly knows no other life and continues to live amongst tramps and prostitutes. This automatically puts her amongst a bunch of other people who are on the edge of acceptable society. By now she is good at passing for human, but sooner or later her true nature will have to come out. Amy uses the setting to provide a perfect excuse: Molly’s landlady turns out to be a transvestite, so who is the bigger fake?

All in all, the book is a fine start. It could be better. If I ever write a novel I will make sure that I go back and re-write the first few chapters from scratch because I’ve seen so many first novels where the author takes a while to get the hang of things. But by the end Amy has established a confident control over the medium. There are two more books to go, and I’m looking forward to them.

This review originally appeared on Emerald City.

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