Artificial intelligence attracted mountains of interests in recent years. In science and technology, engineers and scientists are researching to make machines “smarter”. While the current artificial intelligence has yet to reach a level when we can call it “sentient”, but movies and books in the popular culture often venture beyond the technicality of artificial intelligence, exploring its implications in the arena of ethics. Inevitably, artificial intelligence pressures a most profound question:
What is “being alive”?
In Feet of Clay, the 19th Discworld novel, author Terry Pratchett took the intriguing premise of artificial intelligence, and weaved a funny, and heart-wrenching story set in the fantastic Discworld. Today, I would like to provide a review for this book.
Have you seen those robotic, vacuum cleaners? I have one at home, it cleans quite well. On earth, we make machines these days to do certain jobs. But do you know, people on Discworld also make robots? In fact, on Discworld, out of clays, people make “magical” versions of robots called Golems, then have priests put “words” in Golems' heads so they can operate and do things.
But people on Discworld don't like Golems, and this is where our story began... A series of murders appeared around the city of Ankh-Morpork. The City Watch arrived at the crime scenes to investigate the clues, only to find these clues cannot be traced to any living things, and Golems became the prime suspect. Wait, can the answer to the murder mystery be that simple? Or perhaps there is more to the story?
Meanwhile, someone poisoned Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of the city, but no clues can be found. Can there be a connection between the Golem murders and the poisoning of Vetinari? A web of mysteries hung in the dusky air on Ankh-Morpork streets, presenting a mind boggling challenge for Commander Samuel Vimes and the City Watch, as they endeavor to solve these riddles before the city erupts into chaos.
My thoughts on this book:
Feet of Clay treads the line of a mystery/detective novel. It also comes across as a social commentary. There are many stars in this book, mostly members from the City Watch such as Samuel Vimes, Carrots, Angua, Nobby and Colon. The City of Ankh-Morpork is a satirical portrayal of our own world. In this book, under the curtain of a black comedy about trolls, dwarfs, werewolves and vampires, Terry Pratchett invites his readers to view the world from Vime's perspective, exploring topics such as immigration, fear of automation, ethnic/gender discrimination, and identities. Feet of Clay also introduced a new character called Cheery Littlebottom, a female dwarf who recently joined the City Watch. Cheery befriended Angua, and their friendship formed a very interesting sub-story in the book. It is a parallel to the burning topic in our world about gender inequality at work places.
The other star in this book, is arguably Dorfl the Golem. His story sets the centre stage for Feet of
Let me just say, I was particularly intrigued and delighted by Dorfl's story. In this book, the people of
When Dorfl gained self-awareness (then subsequently declaring himself an atheist), it then struck me as an irony that the only monsters in the city, were the people (arguably makers of Golems) who wanted to destroy Dorlf, so they can stop Dorfl from his non-violent protests against the treatments of Golems and animals. Dorfl's story is powerful because it provokes the readers to ask questions; what is humanity and what is life? And how do we measure our choices against consequences? As the story mounted to the climax at this point, I was reminded of the genius in Terry Pratchett's works and why I love these books so much; Discworld novels are entertaining and at the same time deeply meaningful.
When I finished reading Feet of Clay, I stared, mouth agape, at the book cover. I was stunned by the intensity of the mind behind creations of characters such as Samuel Vimes and Dorfl. On the surface, these characters appear to be comical exaggerations in a humorous story, but what they really represent are so much more. I wish Terry Pratchett could have stayed with us a bit longer to write more books packed with solid gold like this one.