Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams is an interesting look at technology and how it can intertwine with our lives.
It begins with Pearl, an employee at a firm with a product that can improve people’s lives. Simply feed the machine a piece of DNA and it’ll spit out a short list of recommendations to make your life better. Position your desk by a window. Cut off a sliver of your pinkie. Learn to play the violin. They seem like inconsequential changes, but the people prescribed them report back with great success.
It’s speculative fiction, asking us to imagine a world in which technology can unlock the key to happiness.
What an unsettling and intriguing concept.
One especially intriguing thing that we see now with our on relationships with technology – our tendency to personify inanimate technological devices. How often have you thanked Siri or Alexa after they did what you ordered? Or cursed at them when they tried to order lightbulbs in response to your request for a hip-hop playlist?
In Tell the Machine Goodnight, Pearl literally tells the machine goodnight. She carries the machine from place to lace, like a lap dog. Imaginary conversations, greetings and salutations, virtual dear diary entries – Pearl forms an odd, one-sided relationship with it. As a result, the machine effectively takes its place as a replacement for human intimacy.
A drawback: the book meanders a bit. It goes off on a trail with Calla, a scream queen. Rhett’s story is fascinating for a while, then peters out. Pearl’s career trajectory is confusing and seems pointless. It feels like Tell the Machine Goodnight was supposed to go somewhere, but meandered at all of the rest stops instead and forgot what its destination was supposed to be.
Enjoyable, if somewhat disjointed, it’s an interesting concept that needs a little bit more of a bite.