A review by tachyondecay
Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden

adventurous mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


Many a moon ago I read a duology (plus inciting novella) from Guy Haley called Reality 36 and Omega Point. It features, among other things, a dynamic duo of an AI and a cyborg as private investigators. I predictably loved it. I thought Emergent Properties, by Aimee Ogden, might give me some of the same flavour—and I was partly right. Thank you to NetGalley and publisher Tor for the eARC.

Scorn is one of the earliest sentient AIs and one of few AIs emancipated from their creators. Scorn’s creators are a couple of scientists ze calls Mum and Maman; once a powerhouse team, they have since divorced and fallen into a cycle of very public acrimony. Scorn has tried to stay out of it, ducking zir purpose as a space-exploration AI to become an investigator instead. When the story starts, a backup of Scorn has just been restored—missing the last ten days of memories! Ze must retrace zir steps, and fast, not only to get to the bottom of the mystery but also figure out who might have had it out for zir—and why.

Lots of stuff to recommend this book to lovers of science fiction. First, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The plot is brisk. Despite that, Ogden does a lot of worldbuilding. Scorn explains the basics of this world, which is cyberpunk dusted with a bit of failed singularity: corporations have replaced failed nation-states, and AI exists, but most of it is not particularly powerful. Scorn is an exception, a fact that definitely makes zir lonely. We also meet a few other examples of AIs of various levels of complexity, including a “sibling” of Scorn’s.

The actual mystery and its resolution is predictable, in my opinion. The culprit was (to me) fairly obvious, the climax pretty clearly telegraphed early on. Since this is a novella I will cut it a bit more slack, simply because it is meant to be shorter and shallower than a full novel. If execution over originality is your desire (and mystery, like romance, often encourages that desire), then this book will work fine for you.

Indeed, Ogden has prioritized a fun and sympathetic protagonist over the mystery. And that’s fine. Scorn is cool. Ze is an exhausted, hardworking, somewhat sarcastic AI. I liked how Ogden clearly took time to consider how to write an AI in first person. At a few points, Scorn mentions things like locking zir sarcasm subroutines behind a time-delay lock, so ze will be less sarcastic for a certain period of time. Ogden acknowledges how the vast differences between Scorn’s experience and those of a vanilla human—both in terms of embodiment but also how we process stimuli—would make Scorn think and act differently.

Emergent Properties is a great science-fiction novella that’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Don’t go in expecting the moon—do go in expecting an intense visit to the moon!

Originally posted at Kara.Reviews.