In Free Will Odyssey, author Larry Kilham imagines a not-too-distant future where humans are able to have complete control of their lives. By enhancing one’s free will, and preventing one’s body from dictating the choices you make, this new technology could usher in a new generation of human achievement and happiness.
Upon that fascinating premise, this short novel weaves the intricate and thoughtfully crafted tale of Peter Tesla, the brilliant young inventor and engineer that is responsible for creating this revolutionary new technology. The plot is highly dependent on certain elements of VR and AI, extrapolating some of the early achievements that we have already seen in the real world. The proximity of this fiction to readers’ reality is one of the most appealing aspects of this book.
The Steve Jobsian character of Tesla is captivating due to the resolute nature of his goal, his powerful backstory, and the potential applications his technology could have for our world. In many ways, this fictional character feels more real than many other protagonists, because his story seems like it could be just around the corner.
As with any good sci-fi story, there are always unexpected hiccups, philosophical struggles and tragic outcomes on the road to discovery. Peter Tesla’s ambition is inspiring, but his humanity is what Kilham captures best. It is a pleasure to read Tesla as a character, and look at the brave new world he is trying to create through his eyes. His interactions seem genuine at every turn, and his relationships are believable; he’s an ordinary genius with extraordinary goals, and that makes for a great central figure.
The courtroom scenes and the complexities of free will being put on trial also delivers the existential, on-the-nose conversation the entire book seems designed to present. Tying in Peter Tesla’s personal life and passion for invention gives the proceedings more gravitas, and by that point, readers have formed their own opinions about guilt or innocence.
Kilham’s writing is surprisingly elegant for such a tech-heavy subject, and there are only a few sections where the exposition of VR, health insurance markets, governmental procedure, and the details of the invention get a bit dry. However, these clarifications are necessary for readers to fully immerse themselves in the story and understand the huge ramifications of a technology like Electra, and Kilham does an excellent job peppering exposition within solid narrative passages and conversations.
The greatest mark against the novel is that it is disappointingly short, as this premise has so many avenues for discussion that aren’t always fully explored. The concepts of population control, biotechnology, and Augmented Reality are only going to become more realistic in years to come, and fiction like this raises vital questions that should be asked with increasing regularity.
Overall, Free Will Odyssey is a thought-provoking thrill to read. Like other great sci-fi writers of the past who foresaw some of the dangers were are currently experiencing, Larry Kilham presents the challenges we very well might be facing in the coming decades, resulting in a prescient, thoughtful, and highly entertaining novel about an all-too-plausible future.
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