“MEMORIES WITH MAYA”: A REVIEW.
It has been noted, by Vint Cerf among others, that the Internet can no longer be usefully thought of as a system for connecting computers together, but must instead be thought of as a system for connecting people together (personally, I prefer Tim Berners-Lee’s description of the Internet as computers talking to other computers on behalf of people).
What if the Web were really good at connecting people together, such that every nuance of human communication from body language to facial expression and even physical touch could be exchanged between two or more geographically-separate people? It is questions like these which form the basis for a new science-fiction tale- ‘Memories With Maya’, written by Clyde Dsouza http://www.amazon.com/Memories-Maya-Clyde-Dsouza/dp/1482514885/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373793646&sr=1-1&keywords=memories+with+maya
So what is it about? While reading it, it struck me as being kind of like a prequel to Vernor Vinge’s ‘Rainbows End’. I must stress that Dsouza’s tale is in no way a prequel to Vinge’s; they are completely separate stories. Nevertheless both revolve around augmented-reality technologies which enable a seamless blending of real world places and actual people with virtual objects and avatars. But whereas Vinge set his story in a future in which such technology has achieved mass adoption, Dsouza sets his at a time when such technology is being prototyped.
“Memories With Maya” follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Dan and Krish as they seek backing in order to bring to market technologies which will truly make the Internet a system for connecting people. These guys, particularly Krish who is more of an engineer than Dan (his expertise being more in the area of neat ideas that make good use of what Krish has engineered) reminded me of Palmer Luckey, brains behind the Oculus Rift VR headset. Just as Luckey was able to use affordable LED screens, accelerometers and other off-the-shelf tech to put together the world’s first affordable and immersive VR headset, Krish and Dan use the technology of their time in order to prototype Augmented Reality Visors with inbuilt artificial intelligence (they call them Wizers, geddit?) and lots of other pretty cool sounding toys.
An advantage of the story is that it does not rely on technology which is too futuristic. Indeed, most of the gadgets featured in ‘Memories With Maya’ are already actual commercial products, albeit ones that are not nearly as capable. It would take a person with very poor imagination not to see that a lot of the technology featured in this sci-fi tale could be come science fact within a pretty short timeframe.
A disadvantage of the story is the timeframe in which it is set. Since this is prototype technology we do not get to see how society is affected by its mass adoption. Instead, at least for the first half of the story, what we get is to be a fly-on-the-wall listening to these guys spin ‘wouldn’t it be neat if’ tales and demonstrating gadgets which promise to deliver. The author seems to be much more interested in explaining how the technology works rather than how society might respond to this seamless integration of the virtual and the real. That is not to say the story does not give its readers plenty of food for thought concerning how love affairs, business negotiations, schooling and other aspects of life would be affected; there is plenty here to get minds thinking about such things. It is just that, by setting the story at a time when the technology’s pioneers are seeking backing in order to turn their prototypes into commercial products, we do not get to learn how the author thinks his character’s inventions would change the world.
But that is just the first half of the story. The novel is not actually in two parts but there is a tragic event which occurs roughly half way which, to me, seemed to mark a transition from viewing the technology as something a start-up business is trying to sell to more established corporations, to seeing it as deeply personal, a cure (or is it a placebo?) for the emotional trauma that Dan (and others, but the story focuses on Dan) goes through as a result of their technology used for darker purposes than they intended. I would rather not say much about the nature this dark purpose, nor what its tragic consequence is or the way Dan uses his gadgets to cope. To do so would be to introduce spoilers and it would be better for readers to come across this plot twist like I did- unaware of the exact nature of events which transpire. Suffice it to say that if you have seen the TV series ‘Caprica’ or read chapter 16 of Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘I am a Strange Loop’, you should be pretty familiar with Dan’s way of coping and the questions his methods raise.
So is it worth reading? I would say so. I read the book twice and it certainly did not feel like a chore. The story moves along at a fairly brisk pace. I felt that the character development was a bit on the light side, as if the author was much more concerned with describing the capabilities of the technologies rather than portray how the characters grow as individuals. Also, at times the female characters felt a little like how women are portrayed in pornographic movies- there in order to offer their bodies for sex and not much else. Maybe if the story had concentrated on the personal journey of Dan as he employs his and Krish’s technology in the service of dealing with his tragedy rather than spend one half of the book basically describing how the technologies work, ‘Memories With Maya’ would be worth a five-star rating. As it stands it is not up there with the greatest sci-fi novels but it is not half-bad. I reckon it is worthy of four stars.