A slightly different choice for book of the month on The Notable: Klara And The Sun. While we normally select a self-development guide, for April we branched out and decided to explore a very recent science fiction novel. The themes are relevant particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and this novel has given us a lot to think about!
Klara and The Sun takes place in a dystopian future world startlingly similar to that of our own ‘pandemic world.’
The children in the novel are accustomed to society’s new ways; which include being educated at home via an ‘oblong’, with only periodic ‘interactions’ with other children. Children are genetically modified or ‘lifted’ to ensure academic success, though this process poses health risks which see Josie, the novel’s main child, terribly unwell, and later on we find out her late sister, Sal, passed away as a result of it. AF (artificial friends) are, though still controversial, becoming increasingly popular in Ishiguro’s story, and Klara and The Sun takes place from an AF, Klara’s, perspective.
“On the morning of the interaction meeting, Josie was filled with anxiety.”
To me, this felt reminiscent of what’s been occurring over the last few years and especially this year. The intense focus on academic work as well as schools, universities and the workplace becoming exceedingly competitive to enter into, makes Ishiguro’s fictitious concept of being ‘lifted’ conceivable. Over the last year, children have spent a lot of time learning from home through zoom lessons, and the social ineptitude of the children in the novel raises concerns for the youngsters of this generation.
“The kitchen was especially difficult to navigate because so many of its elements would change their relationship to one another moment by moment.”
Klara is an incredibly talented AF. Her observational skills are accurate and her ability to understand human emotions improves progressively throughout the novel. There are, however, some issues with her sight; she often sees things in squares and panels, rather like a computer without the bandwidth to load an image in its entirety. This highlights the incompetencies of robots, which are taking over the roles that people used to play in society. What immediately sprung to mind was the ‘self-check out’ in supermarkets, which seem to go wrong a lot of the time and still require real-life people to manage them. Perhaps this is only because technology still has a long way to go, and over time there will be fewer and fewer issues and less and less human management will therefore be required.
“I believe I have many feelings,” Klara says. “The more I observe, the more feelings become available to me.”
While I really did warm to Klara, her constrained and stilted nature made me unable to perceive her fully as a living, breathing creature. Even in the moments that she seems capable of empathy, there is still something too mathematical about her observations to feel genuine. During an interaction meeting, the children gang up on Klara, threatening to ‘throw her over onto the sofa’ to see if she gets damaged. What’s particularly poignant about this scene is Klara’s overly-nonchalant response. She does not fear the bullies, nor try to fight them or defend herself in the same way a child would.
We find out later on in the novel that Klara’s purpose is to ‘continue as Josie,’ should she pass away as an unfortunate consequence of being ‘lifted’. After losing Josie’s sister, Sal, the mother believes she cannot cope with losing another child and sets out on this mission to turn Klara into her daughter. While Klara’s ability to imitate Josie is accurate, Josie’s parents come to realise that this commission may not be possible because Klara lacks something intangible; something that cannot be mimicked by a robot. Despite the sophisticated technology available to the characters in Klara And The Sun, a real-life person cannot be replaced. This I see as a word of warning to us; we can develop technology as much as we like, but something inanimate will forever cease to replace a living being in its absoluteness.
I hope you enjoyed the book of the month for April, something a bit different and very thought-provoking. Let us know your thoughts!