Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Companions

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn
Simon & Schuster: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982122157

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn is a recommended dystopian science fiction debut novel.

When a highly contagious virus results in people being placed under quarantine in their sealed high rise towers, the Metis Corporation creates "Companions." Companions are the consciousness of a dead person uploaded into a robot and kept in service to the living. Companions range from the early, simple can-like robots to a body-like machine covered in skin. Usually families pay for custody of the Companions of their dead loved ones, but less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death. All companions are the intellectual property of the Metis Corporation. Essentially they have created a new class of people who exist without legal rights or true free will.

Lilac is a very simple robot, one of the early models, leased to a family to be the companion to an adolescent girl, Dahlia. As the narrative begins, Lilac is telling Dahlia her story, the events leading up to her death, while being careful of Dahlia's mother, who hates Lilac. This is when Lilac discovers that not only can she remember her life, she can defy commands, so she runs away to search for the woman who killed her and find out what happened to her best friend. This sets off a chain of events and introduces us to several different characters which will be followed for decades as the plot unfolds.

The character-driven narrative is told through the point-of-view of these eight different figures - some human, some companion. The connection between the characters is Lilac. Her movements link them together as she is part of every story at some point. One of the better developed characters is Gabe, who we meet as a nine-year-old orphan who is street smart and able to hide out in the streets. There is a lot of personal growth and emotional depth to her characterization. However, not all eight of the main characters are that interesting or, really, add a significant layer of depth to the plot.

Part of the problem with the plot is a lack of a specific focus and it feels unfinished. If the focus of the novel is to tell Lilac's story, as it sets out to do at the beginning, and bring closure to her questions about what really happened to her friend and to the girl who killed her, then it does that, but hardly requires the whole novel for the revenge/redemption story. If the purpose of the plot is an introspective look at what makes us human and how human rights are granted, then the focus of the narrative should have been better focused.  And it must be said that the world building is not quite as developed as I was hoping for at the start.

I was hooked at the start and had high hopes for The Companions, but, after I finished the novel, I thought it needed some more work. While the writing is good and it presented an interesting idea, the follow-through with each character and the final denouement was a letdown.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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