Shelter - Susan Palwick A remarkably well-conceived and well-crafted novel! Palwick imagines a plague that, once it has ravaged Africa, is sufficiently contained to be able to alter brain chemistry and even "mindwipe" undesirables who can then (usually) be re-socialized from scratch. Add in the development of AI entities, smart-bots, and translated consciousnesses (recording memories while alive and then "translating" them to live on in virtual space), and all the tools are in place for a solid speculative investigation of AI personhood (legal and moral) along with issues of privacy, information technologies, and just punishment.

Palwick does more, though - she tells the complementary and intersecting tales of Meredith and Roberta, early survivors of the CV plague whose lives are directed unwittingly by Meredith's father, Papa Preston, the first-ever translated entity. We see the consequences of the horrors they shared early in the book, and then move back in time for them to explain how circumstances could have brought them together after years apart.

As with her short stories (The Fate of Mice, which I finished a week or so ago - and by the way, mice have a big role to play in this book, too!), Palwick is able to develop thick, emotional horror in her story-telling. I recoiled more than once as the moral dimensions of Meredith's actions dawned on me.

The weakness of the novel follows from its strength - though well-conceived, the plot is almost too well-conceived, and there simply aren't enough dangling loose ends for me. Character's lives are too knotted up with one another for my taste, and resolutions pat enough to be predictable. It is a solipsistic universe inhabited only by a dozen or so people, and the rest of the planet looks on via ScoopNet.

Two other problems: first, for the mid-twentieth century, there is an unbelievable reliance on landlines and other stationary information technology. The book was only published a few years ago, when mobile tech was apparent enough. And second, college students used "books" in their classes, an interesting idea, but one that has pretty much run its course. A few anachronisms in an otherwise rich novel are not so terrible.