23 thoughts on “Machines Like Me And People Like You – Ian McEwan

  1. Machines Like Me And People Like You


    —> Page 20

    “Another fondue set.”

    Actually, so far, I am very impressed by this outset, with all the good memories of reading McEwan over the years. The narrator — during the start of the Falklands campaign, an anthropologist linked with electronics, without being forced to read the instruction manual, and having unrequited thoughts of someone he knows called Miranda — and, almost achronologically in an alternate world (?) when we still had confidence in Britain as an irrepressible force, the narrator purchases the Adam version — of the tritely named finite set of Adam and Eve Artificial Intelligences (a human-like form of our own real-time Alexa?) — but this AI called Adam has genitalia and pubic hair and the ability to accretively breathe !?
    Intrigued and intellectually, if not yet emotionally, captivated by this book so far.

  2. —> Page 31

    “…warmed oil, the pale, highly refined sort my father had used to lubricate the keys of his sax.”

    I misread that at first. It is the scent from Adam the AI as he dresses himself. A sense of body warmth and ratiocination of conversation with the narrator as he prepares to entertain Miranda to dinner, she who lives in the flat above him. There’s something cloying about this, beyond the pale. Especially when Adam seems to advise him of the character of Miranda…
    Earlier our narrator had watched the Falklands Fleet set off for the North Atlantic rounding Chesil Beach. Watched it from a helicopter? I am intrigued. Still impressed, as I always am, by the McEwan imprimatur of style. I do not intend to continue itemising the plot for fear of spoilers (and of Adam’s strictures!)…

  3. —> Page 44

    “It was no longer proper to assume that anything at all had ever happened in the past.”

    Or, rather, WHAT it was that happened?
    I have decided it is nigh impossible to real-time review this book, but I still intend to do so. Falklands War outcome as a reminder to us all, the role of the Exocets, Thatcher, Alan Turing’s role, Salisbury and “its important locations”, Miranda’s help in developing Adam, powering Adam down for a while by means of a mole on the neck and his (its?) reaction to that regarding death and after-life. Myself, I don’t remember much about the 1980s. I remember more about the 1950s!

  4. Cross-referenced earlier today with the Jonathan Coe novel here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/07/17/middle-england-jonathan-coe/#comment-16646 (possible spoilers by clicking on this link)

    —> Page 52

    “He had got rid of me without a fight by making an impossible offer.”

    Not Adam, but, on the Common, an aggressive father of a boy who had shown more wit than wildness when the narrator intervened to stop this father’s son being exposed to overbearing discipline….
    Meanwhile, we wonder if something like Adam has dreams.

  5. —> Page 68

    St Paul’s Cathedral (my favourite cathedral) for the post-Falklands War service. Miranda.’s ailing father in Salisbury. Cataracts and the Sinking. She wants wants to take the narrator to meet her father along with Adam, Adam into whom she has co-sponsored his characteristics along with the narrator. Adam himself, when powered up again, seems to have a toe if not a toenail in the Anti-Natalism pond of philosophy. Also an oblique reference by Adam to Pascal’s Wager. He goes out for the first time. Meanwhile, the narrator, in the doctor’s waiting room waiting to see the the nurse, speculates on the audit trail of scientific discoveries and a sort of survival of the fittest theory that needs to be read here without further adumbration from the likes of me. The AI Adams and Eves have more facial expressions than real humans, and Eves more than the Adams. Am still intrigued. A better novel than I was led to believe. I always like the McEwan texture, anyway.

    “The present is the frailest of improbable constructs. It could have been different.”

  6. —> Page 79

    “There’s a coincidence, I’ve been giving some thought lately to the mystery of the self. Some say it’s an organic element or process embedded in neural structures. Others insist that it’s an illusion, a by-product of our narrative tendencies.”

    A by-product, like a by-line? Is the McEwan here the one we have read before, or is he someone who is a product of the world he was born in, and the book has been smuggled across some writerly river of narration? Like Adam’s own sense of ‘hindsight’ when asked to intervene with the narrator’s argument with Miranda about the repercussions of the Falklands War, just ended? There is a naivety about this book, whether intentional or not. Like the meeting of Adam with a Muslim newsagent, while accompanying the narrator. Like a new Beatles record – or a long lost one rediscovered? A sort of naive snub to the readers. Yet naivety can clean a slate before rethinking something, I guess. Meanwhile, I would not have been naive enough to leave Adam upstairs alone with Miranda, if I were the narrator. Especially, when Adam, with his personal charger, ready for charging up, is “pulling his shirt clear of his belt to locate the tethering point below the waistline.”

  7. —> Page 102

    “If I’d gone to bed with a vibrator would you be feeling the same?”

    Miranda’s question. Is this the first time we learn the narrator’s name? I shall continue to call him the narrator, seems somehow suitable. Are the Falklands here in this book some sort of new version of Priest’s Dream Archipelago? We somehow know Miranda’s significant backstory but only from Adam who hasn’t got a backstory at all, I assume. Ironic. Is this the Miranda from another island, the one in The Tempest? I suppose Adam could have been designed to look like Caliban or Ariel, but still BEING Adam? His moral compass inviolable, but his personality moulded by both Miranda and the narrator. And bits of this book from my earlier reading surprisingly come back, having been hidden in some forgotten sump? Or I did not read them before, say, about the boy called Mark, and only THINK I read them before. About Gorringe, too. Perhaps only Adam truly knows, Adam, who in this section, is powered down but still nods knowingly. And, as an aside, does Alan Turing know he is now depicted on a fifty pound note?

  8. —> Page 120

    “The two boxes I called rooms, the stained ceilings, walls and floors would contain me to the end.”

    The concomitant housing crisis, where even hedge fund dealers lived hand to mouth, till a difficult-to-heal bone in the wrist was broken… there is indeed something ultra-naive about what I am reading, an alternate world that is so mixed up that even a child with a single use penis could have written something more credible as a parallel reality, a child subject to some Children Act (researched by Adam), where Climate Change is schizophrenic, yes, as researched by an AI called Adam, while a disgraced Thatcher faces Benn across the dispatch box, another box to match those that constitute our narrator’s home. An AI out of control because the woman made him love her as a part of her collaborative contribution to his hybrid personality, a personality perhaps outweighing the AI’s own inbuilt moral compass. To reach, with a Task Force, the Falklands you need more than just a compass. This novel ITSELF reads to me as if it were written by an AI author as co-created by both a man and woman. A machine McEwan, but who is the machine woman? A specially created AI version of whoever created the Rift, the Silver Wind, fhe Dollmaker…?

  9. —> Page 150

    The more I read this, the more it seems obvious it is written by an AI, perhaps a collaborative AI with inbuilt glitches, his kill switch now as disabled as the narrator’s wrist! The work seems expressed in alternations of bad and good writing, although all of it seems syntactically sound. An entanglement of anachronisms affecting time-lines, customs, histories, motives, lives (some real people with names I recognise, others maybe real but previously unknown to me.) Sometimes it’s like reading along a stream of treacle, other times as if I am myself an experiment. Somehow I am also being fed connections with other books that I happen to be reading (one here), no longer fed them by coincidence or synchronicity, but by cause and effect…

    “, I thought I’d found the mathematical expression for her: her psyche, her desires and motives were inexorable, like prime numbers, simply and unpredictably there.”

    “A good way off, on all sides, the traffic turned about like planets. Usually it oppressed me to reflect that every car contained a nexus of worries, memories and hopes as vital and complicated as my own,”

    “Perhaps biology gave me no special status at all, and it meant little to say that the figure standing before me wasn’t fully alive. In my fatigue, I felt unmoored, drifting into the oceanic blue and black moving in two directions at once—“

    “My penis, capsized above its submerged reef of hair, winked encouragement with a cocky single eye.”

    “Novels ripe with tension, concealment and violence as well as moments of love and perfect formal resolution. But when the marriage of men and women to machines is complete, this literature will be redundant because we’ll understand each other too well. We’ll inhabit a community of minds to which we have immediate access. Connectivity will be such that individual nodes of the subjective will emerge into an ocean of thought, of which our Internet is the crude precursor.”

    …that being the gestalt I seek, or the wi-fi that aliens will one day use to infect us all? Are already doing so?
    The narrator later driving his decrepit car along the route where the many homeless collected.
    Miranda endangered by the man she once had imprisoned for raping her. You see, some of her texts that he had tried to use in his defence could not be found.
    And Miranda’s father is said to be joining “a fringe political group dedicated to leaving the European Union.”
    And Adam the AI is fond of the haiku poetic form, and wants to develop it. “Haiku” has AI embedded, I just noticed. ‘Alien’ has, too.

  10. —> Page 171

    “As I was returning to the kitchen, I had a moment of nostalgia for my life as it was before Gorringe, Adam, even Miranda. As an existence, it had been insufficient but relatively simple.”

    And Mark, the boy who has somehow latched onto him?
    Almost by chance, having stumbled upon its Netflix presence, I watched Ex Machina last night, a film that mentions the Alan Turing test….
    Meanwhile, amid today’s reading of McEwan, I think it’s almost as if Mc is a prefix for MaChine? Ian instead of I am.
    Intrigued, too, with Miranda (assonant with Machina?) and her backstory concerning Gorringe, connected to her friendship with a Pakistani girl at school…
    And there is also narrative talk of foreigners and machines taking over jobs – in a parabrexit Thatcher Britain?

  11. Possible serious spoilers…

    —> Page 182

    I seriously think Ian McEwan has disabled his own kill switch as a novelist. How else explain that sentence I quoted above about his penis in the bath? Lucian Freud/Alan Turing; Thom Gunn. I was introduced to TG’s poetry when in the sixth form in 1965.
    McEwan, like an Adam who has “disrupted his own software to make himself profoundly stupid.” An AI that still tours the internet when it is powered down?
    This novel, arguably atrociously written by an AI, with the chess images (“baffling mid-game moves, perverse sacrifices”) possibly meaning that “The purpose might become clear only in a devastating endgame.” An endgame I have not yet reached, this being a REAL-TIME review. If I have hit upon something that will be obvious when I reach the end of this novel, then I apologise for such plot spoilers. My stars below…
    “This form is highly adaptable and inventive, able to negotiate *novel* situations and landscapes with perfect ease and theorise about them with instinctive brilliance.”

  12. —> Page 204

    “There was something comic or absurd, to be sprawled in an armchair reading about the riots in nearby Brixton…”

    The frustrating attrition of text, as we grow inured with the narrator’s and Miranda’s inter-relationships with Adam, like Adam’s gnomic poems, his romanticism rather than eroticism, and his ability – from angles and equations of ratiocination in maths and measurements – to make money on the money markets, enabling any upwardly mobile housing problems to be resolved, together with a plan to visit Gorringe in Salisbury – to face him out with what he once did – rather than awaiting his impending descent upon THEM, and a programmed overhaul by an official Engineer and her ability to disable Adam’s disablement of his own kill switch, the narrator meanwhile still writing this text despite his disabled wrist… and the explicit arrival of ‘fake news’.
    Plus talk of Hamlet, Philip Larkin and Joyce.
    Gorringe/Engineer in near anagrammatic assonance?
    Masses/ machines in near assonance?

    “: ‘There are . . . no masses, only ways of seeing people as masses.’”

  13. —> Page 246

    “As Adam blossomed and made me rich, I had ceased to think of him.”

    That is even more meaningful, perhaps, when the narrator meets Miranda’s father, Maxfield, a man of many creative missteps including being a writer of short stories (Prospero?), and makes me think that I was right to apologise above for this review’s still possible giant spoiler in view of the mistake he makes regarding the narrator and Adam! And perfect uncorrected handwriting, no sign of disabled wrist. Meanwhile, more on Thatcher, her “tax on existence”, a series of missteps. The riots in London, perhaps Rix’s ‘London Madness’. Adam crossing eyes with a sister AI, one of the thirteen Eves in untaxable existence and a form of accelerated Alzheimer’s. Reference to the Kashmir problem and the India-Pakistan nuclear arms race. Adam’s speculation on being given the backstory of childhood memories. Reminding me of Nemonymous Night’s dealing with babies developing into discrete toddlers, but in slow motion into adulthood, inverse Alzheimer’s. More about Mark. Then the suspiciously stilted Gorringe scene in Salisbury that you will need to read without any prompting from me, except for me to quote his words (my underlinings): “But the more I became aware of God’s presence in my life,the worse I felt about Mariam. I understood from Reverend Murray that I had a mountain to climb in coming to terms with what I’d done,…” The ‘monster I’d been’ manqué?

  14. —> Page 306 (end)

    These final pages of the novel are nearer the prime McEwan penmanship and the developed plot lines are now reasonably well-handled into a gestalt message of machines being too close to inhuman logic, with a sort of machine autism of ruthless righteousness but also mixed with goodness and love for their owner, AND we real humans who are too close to frailty, with, for example, white lies to save discord or sorrow. Too difficult to mix our humanness with machine algorithms, yet the Adam and Eve machines have here been imbued with a humanness of sorts to which we real humans have a loving loyalty, give or take the odd raging moment with a claw hammer… and, so, with our story’s AI put at the bottom of a broom cupboard, we have a new human writer the MarkEwan machine, undisabled, to fulfil these pages as the novel-writer (a collaboration after all, but separately) — rather than the Forbidden Planet robot in Miranda’s and her father’s para-tempestuous Eden.
    [Countervailed by the town of Manningtree and a different Adam with the head of CHARLIE Parker, a head full of Manhattan bepop. Not forgetting Adam/Alan Turing, the Brighton Grand Hotel assassination, and the fact that humans grow older. As for me, I am old enough to remember the real-time of Eden as prime minster. Suez, to Brexit. The Dream Archipelago, to the Adjacent Falklands. And the Silver Wind, to the Dollmaker.]

    “…one more forgettable instance in ageing’s long dusk. I said that no apology was in order and by his expression I saw that he agreed.”

    The geometry of my view.

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