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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 4 August 2014
I can see why this book was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.

"A Calculated Life" is the story of Jayna, a genetically-engineered simulant with superhuman powers of analysis and deduction. Ostensibly physically human, simulants are hybrid blends of carefully-selected genes taken from mentally-outstanding human progenitors. However, simulants are "grown" rather than raised -- arriving fully-adult, with only rudimentary social skills and experiences. Though highly-valued, they are not self-determining beings: they are owned by The Constructor, who leases their skills out for exhorbitant fees.

The more wealthy and exceptional humans are able to obtain bionic implants, which make them more intelligent and capable, but not with the superhuman abilities of a simulant. The poor and unexceptional humans are just stuck with their mediocrity.

We follow Jayna as she gradually learns more about humans by observation of them and interaction with them. But there's a problem: Jayna's generation has been augmented with more sensory capability than previous generations. This seems to be causing glitches in Jayna's siblings: reports are starting to circulate of simulants who deviate from accepted norms and are taken back for reprogramming -- erasing their previous lives. And what is happening to Jayna?

I found the book's pace gradual but intensely absorbing. Rather than giving the background in a big infodump at the beginning, the author lets the reader gradually figure things out as the narrative progresses. I'm not a big fan of infodumps, so this style is always a winner for me.

My only real criticism is that the story ended all too soon. I would LOVE to read it in a more fleshed-out, fully-realised form.

I'm hoping that this short novel will someday get the same treatment as Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain, Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, and Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon: expansion by the author, with a little more experience and more thought, into a wonderful full-length novel.

In the meantime, though, it's still well worth the read. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because I REALLY enjoyed this story.
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on 4 February 2015
Jayna, a simulant created to predict trends for the kind of superficially genial corporation we are all too familiar with, is so clever she can determine the effect on crime of a prevailing wind. However, she is naïve, even innocent and despite appearing to be a young woman has not been alive long. The creeping conformity of Jayna’s world suggests a dystopia but the environment lacks the genre’s usual brutal hallmarks. Yes, there is a commodified class structure and yes there is an individual revolution that does not end well but as in our own time events are not set at a single extreme like they are in ‘1984’. This ambivalence lies at the heart of ‘A Calculated Life’.
Some reviews comment that not a lot happens but actually great deal does; it’s just that apparently small things like a change in menu or a chance observation in a shop have terrific significance to Jayna. She feels something as a result of these events but does not have the emotional vocabulary to express it. Perhaps it is the rhythm of the writing, its precision if you like; but the ending is devastating because of this slow accumulation of carefully expressed, often sensual experience.
Jayna’s quizzical innocence threatens to make her unlikeable; certainly some of her co-workers think so and the office politics in the early part of the novel are very relatable. However, two elements of the story ensure we never lose empathy. One is humour; the dystopian paradigm requires the intervention of a chaotic element, usually a lover and that does happen here but the inciting incident is Jayna getting some calculations wrong. Like the wind/crime interface it’s a subtle joke, as is a predictive novel about someone who predicts things, gets some right, others wrong and acts on the latter. The second, more touching element is the way Jayna’s very female efficiency finally benefits others but not herself.
That Jayna is a product legally ordered, operated and recycled according to what seem to be standard terms and conditions raises the tricky subject of worth. Like the autistic narrator of Elizabeth Moon’s seminal ‘Speed of Dark’, Jayna makes painstaking sense of the world around her in a way that is revelatory to those of us who take it for granted. Unlike that novel, ‘A Calculated Life’ is not in the first person although Jayna’s character imbues the writing to such an extent we could be in the presence of a character so alienated from herself that a first person narrative has become third person by default.
It’s heartening that this quietly compelling novel has been so well received and I look forward to future books by the author.
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on 31 July 2014
Enjoyed reading this, but was disappointed that it didn't go on for longer. It kind of felt like it was only part-way through the story when it ended. I enjoyed following Jayna's emotional development, and liked the way that the author didn't patronise the reader by spelling out the differences between the different person 'types' (will say no more in an effort to avoid spoilers!).

The nitpicker in me has to point out that the story is clearly set in England and uses UK English - so why the American spellings? It jarred a bit every time I came across an American spelling - but that's probably just cos I'm a pedant ;)
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on 16 February 2013
Anne's writing is as economical and studied as the main protagonist's thought patterns. It feels as though each phrase has been carefully, lightly and deftly placed rather than written.

I particularly liked the gradual reveal that Jayna wasn't a high functioning savant but something quite different.

It's a slow burner but it suits the material - and it kicks up a gear in the second half of the book. The epilogue(s) give satisfying closure too.

Overall, it's a great example of a rare thing - finely written, thoughtful, modern British sci-fi.
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on 10 September 2014
I generally go for space opera type sci-fi but I very much enjoyed this book.
Liked the that the world in which the main character lived was gradually revealed to the reader.
The future world she creates is not so dissimilar to ours, which makes a great backdrop for exploring more subtle things such as the characters attitudes, expectations etc.

Its an intimate style and story, but there is still a plot that moves along nicely and keeps your interest.
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on 5 March 2014
Set in a dystopian near future the main heroine is one of a super intelligent ‘people’ bred specifically for roles in industry. Against this there are also those privileged humans who have intelligence implants and those less fortunate left to live in the slums outside of the large conurbations and do the more menial jobs of society. The pure bred intelligents are segregated from the rest of the population all living together forming relationships between themselves, however the story tells of the heroine who finds herself discovering human nature and forming more human relationships outside of her own ‘kind’.

This is a great read, you really get into the mind of the heroine and feel with her as she ‘develops’. No spoilers but the ending is an excellently thought out conclusion. This is certainly one book that would translate to the screen really well, you never know, I keep my fingers crossed!
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on 8 November 2015
I read this to the end despite finding the story development a bit rushed and with many gaps. It all felt a bit lightweight. But I was interested to find how it ended and I quite liked the conclusion which brought it up one star to four and I would recommend this book if you like 'Sci fi' ( if that's still a genre.....)
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on 10 August 2014
An excellent novel, the style matched the theme very well. The analysis of minutiae really worked and left me thinking about what we miss every day, not often something I can say about a book. Really loved the story, strongly recommended.
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on 27 April 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed this book & spent the whole of a return journey from London to the North devouring it! It captivates you as you read to find out more about Jayna & the dystopian world she lives in. The book I feel is an educated view of the future & the issues that the human race will face as we are coerced by big business & employers to become more productive & efficient & the march of technology continues.
Perhaps my only gripe is that book ends on what I'd consider a cliffhanger however I'm hoping that this maybe the author leaving the door open for a sequel!
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on 24 August 2014
Crisply drawn, captivating exploration of sentience. I love the detail in Janya`s thoughts and her patient rational approach. This is an intelligent and lovely tale. A good read and good value for money.
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