THE SHAPE OF THEIR HEARTS

Author: Dan Simmons

Tor Books / 304 pages / June 1998

ISBN: 0312858779

In a world where religious cults seem to sprout up all around us like weeds, it should be no great stretch to imagine an artificial intelligence as a deity. Or to envision the army of believers who accept the deity’s command to convert the known universe, by violence or whatever means necessary. This god (the Memoriant), and the followers (Children), make Eden a very unsafe planet to leave unguarded. But something is going wrong in the Memoriant, and the programming bug threatens all systems — on Eden and anywhere else it can spread. Someone or something must purge the huge network. But, can it be done without losing the “repairman” or the Memoriant?

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The Shapes Of Their Hearts presents us with a scarily possible future, where the desire for information has become a controlling need. Where the power rests with those who can access and harness the data streams, regardless of their motivations.

The “good guys” on Eden live in the independent area of the Freeport, in one of the most intriguing locales in recent memory. Rebels and refugees of the Children live among the huge pilings of the Flyway into the independent area. Dark streets and creaking timbers evoke the harbour towns of film and literature. Towers replace the lighthouses of Earth. Dangerous characters abound. The line between law and outlaw is as foggy as the weather on the sandflats.

Scott has created an alien world with characters readers will recognise, maybe even a society that is too close for comfortable comparison. It isn’t here and it isn’t now, but it isn’t nearly far enough away. The true fright comes with realising what little separates our world from the world where Eden appears to be the next logical step to at least some of the population.

It’s entertaining. It’s chilling. Scott has the talent to bring her creations to life, and the insight into human nature to make her audience examine their own lives more closely. Even as the reader races through The Shapes Of Their Hearts, questions stack up that will keep the novel on their mind for some time to come. And isn’t that the goal of all true art?