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Review: Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle by John McWilliams

Magic, machines reviewTyler Cipriani is a programming prodigy and prodigal son to two brilliant parents – a pushy philosopher-scientist who even used Tyler for his own studies growing up, and a mathematics professor whose ambition and love for her son overlap with her bitterness at her now-ex-husband. His life is by no means average, but despite his talent (whether natural or induced) he holds himself back from a proper education and the constant offers of work in his field, insisting on dreams of bike trips and a period of self-exploration.

The stalemate is broken the day Danny Searle stumbles into a chance meeting with Tyler and his father, and her charm and intelligence takes them into new, unthinkable possibilities, all with the help of a magician’s wit and a scientist’s logic. But who is Danny Searle, and is her magic at odds with the science and laws that the Ciprianis et al base their entire lives around, or is there just more to consider with the new evidence presented?

This mild sci-fi, mild romance novel with a twist of existentialism and showmanship that Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle presents is probably an intimidatingly strange and seemingly pretentious concept to the casual reader, and frankly, without any interest in the ideas the book presents here it might be harder to enjoy. Every single character presented with significance is a believable and technically researched academic who isn’t afraid to speak in that way. Some chapters are extremely heavy in technical debate and dialogue that can only be taken as “technobabble” around half the time without losing some significance of what’s going on. This takes the form of both scientific and more expansive topics including the works of Plato and even odd references to other literary works as the book goes along.

None of these details are vestigial, even if they are on occasion only believable in the sense that all present are happy to lecture each other. Particularly long scenes of this may beg the question of why the author didn’t just publish these thoughts without a story to frame them, but both compliment each other well overall and to have one without the other robs each of something unique. The result is a well-developed story of the circumstances of Danny Searle and her colleagues through the eyes of the initially shiftless Tyler, who finally comes into his own with her gentle assistance and eventual affection.

Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle surprised me by how greatly it could draw me in, not just to the honestly touching – if slightly cheesy – emotional moments that grace the narrative just right when the time finally calls for it, but the deep and sometimes very heavy scientific and philosophical ideas presented and dissected by each character. The book takes some time to get used to, and even then the plot takes gradual turns every few chapters with one of the biggest turns coming without warning toward the end. Much of where things are headed are revealed in a cold opening first chapter, but the development and investment in the situation comes with a gradual build up, and the real plunge only comes when the puzzle pieces seem to be all together.

A quirky book from start until the very end, but for those with the right taste its a satisfying read that will stick with you and give you food for thought in the meanwhile.

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Tyler Cipriani is a programming prodigy and prodigal son to two brilliant parents - a pushy philosopher-scientist who even used Tyler for his own studies growing up, and a mathematics professor whose ambition and love for her son overlap with her bitterness at her now-ex-husband. His life is by no means average, but despite his talent (whether natural or induced) he holds himself back from a proper education and the constant offers of work in his field, insisting on dreams of bike trips and a period of self-exploration. The stalemate is broken the day Danny Searle stumbles into a chance…

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