The story told within Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel about a solar-powered android called Klara looking after a sickly girl called Josie would fit in very easily into Quantic Dream’s 2018 game Detroit: Become Human published by Sony Interactive Entertainment and, at least at the time I downloaded it, available for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers. In fact one of the three main playable characters in the game is called Kara and she looks after a sickly girl called Alice.
Having listened to an interview with the author on Adam Buxton’s podcast and being a big fan of near-future android / robot based science fiction stories I was interested in reading Klara and the Sun despite being rather underwhelmed by Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. To read a short post where I compare reading that book to reading a Lee Child thriller of all things, please take a look at this post from 2016: The views of a philistine?
In both Detroit and Klara and the Sun, androids are sold in high street stores as household appliances to carry out tasks such as housework, gardening and childcare, much like washing machines or fridges are sold today. I will probably do a post soon about Detroit, so I’ll just concentrate on the novel for the rest of this post, but suffice to say that there’s a lot more to enjoy in the game than sadly there is in the book which has a very limited range in terms of the scope of the story, or the thoughts therein provoked.
Klara is somewhat unlike her fellow artificial friends in the store in that she is keenly observant of the minutiae of human life that happens on the street outside the store window. In fact it is this trait which appeals to Josie’s mother, for reasons that become evident later in the story. Klara goes to live with Josie, her mother and the housekeeper and as time passes she bonds with the girl who is becoming increasingly ill due to the side effects of an obscure medical procedure carried out to ‘lift’ Josie’s intelligence beyond the norm and set her up to go to a good university and so gain a good career in the future.
As the title suggests, Klara is obsessed with the sun and not just because that is what powers her batteries. As ancient civilisations have done so in the past she sees it as a god who if approached in the right manner may grant wishes. It is Klara’s wish to help make Josie well again and she gets it into her AI-powered (positronic?) brain that if she makes a sacrifice to the sun, by breaking a polluting machine in the city, that her wish will be granted.
There’s not really whole lot else to say about the book. I was expecting rather more philosophical meanderings from the Booker and Nobel Prize winner about the nature of humanity versus artificial intelligence, but instead got quite a run-of-the-mill tale of one person’s love for another and a bit of basic sci-fi pondering on transference of consciousness. It felt like a book written by an author who likes science-fiction written for non-sci-fi readers ignorant of the work of Asimov or Dick. A rather mundane tale with a gloss of near-future sci-fi that devolves into a kind of fairy tale toward the end.
As with The Buried Giant I am sure some of you will say I’ve missed the point. that Ishiguro is once again writing inside a metaphor and using the device of the non-human Klara to put an analytical spotlight onto human emotions, especially the concept of love. After Buxton’s interview with the writer, I was ready to explore that subtext and as I progressed through the book I was alert to the overall theme of the novel. However, there’s just not that much depth to it. I came away from things like the Detroit game or the far more pulpy The Simulacra by Philip K Dick, with a lot more of an emotional connection, interesting thoughts and conjectures. Maybe it’s just how my brain is wired…