Top critical review
Sophie Kinsella meets Stephenie Meyer meets Brian Aldiss
on 11 April 2013
What a disappointment. The cover promised a philosophically challenging love story set in a not so distant future where androids have become part of our daily lives. But what I got was bad research, mediocre writing, a thoroughly dislikable heroine and a trashy love story taken right from a dime novel or teenage fanfiction.
"The Mad Scientist's Daughter" tells the life story of Caterina Novak, whose father Daniel is an engineer and cybernetician. Cat lives a very sheltered life in the countryside, far away from the high-tech cities of this futuristic world. Her father acquires an android, Finn, who becomes Cat's personal tutor. But since the cover already mentions a tragic love story, I think you know where this is going without me having to spoil it. And there we have the challenging moral issue this book is about: can an android be loved and can they reciprocate this love?
Clarke could have turned this into a sophisticated tale of love in a futuristic society where humans and androids co-exist. But there is very little philosophical discourse, just a few historical facts thrown in here and there, with any relevant social criticism being drowned out by the heroine's selfish musings. I have never encountered such a dislikable protagonist, especially since the author tries so desperately to make the readers sympathise with her. Please feel free to disagree, but I can't help but despise someone who pretends to like other people (both friends and lovers) just to fake normalcy and who even realises afterwards how much she has hurt these people, but keeps doing it again and again.
One particular thing really put me off and I'll mark it as a BIG SPOILER here, so please skip this paragraph if you do not want to know. But after several years of pretending to love her husband, cheating on him and not caring about his feelings at all, he finally snaps and hits Cat. I would never condone violence in a relationship, but after what Cat did to her husband emotionally, I didn't feel any pity for her. Yes, I would have left my husband too after that, but she goes a step too far: she never tells him that she is pregnant with his son and raises the boy without ever telling him about his father. When her husband tries to apologise, Cat kicks him out and tells him what a bad person he is for hitting her, but she has no problems with wearing the designer clothes he bought her whenever she needs to look fancy, including the funeral of a family member. So can somebody please tell me how I am supposed to feel sympathy for her?
When it comes to androids, Clarke relies on SciFi clichés and anyone who has read more than a Wikipedia article about cybernetics will feel the need to slam their head on the desk. Clarke just mentions "a few command lines" and suddenly a robot can feel deep emotions. Oh, and he can also orgasm if you push certain buttons. How that works and where on earth the hardware is that is supposed to process those "few command lines" is a total mystery. Cybernetics is magic, apparently, and not particularly important when there is a hot robot waiting for you. But no worries, Twilight haters, our teenage heroine isn't dazzled by his cold, marble skin sparkling in the sunlight. She falls in love with him when he glitters "like a fairy" in the rain.