Equations of Life book group questions

  1. The world of the London Metrozone is pretty harsh and uncompromising: nuclear terrorism in Europe, Japan sinking beneath the waves, a quasi-theocracy in the USA – but those elements weren’t explained at the start of Equations of Life, and the nature of Armageddon only becomes apparent in Degrees of Freedom. Was this bewildering and off-putting, or did the attempt by the author to treat his readers like grown-ups work?
  2. It’s always dangerous to bring up the subject of realism when talking about an SF book, but how did you find the Metrozone – a dystopia-by-numbers, or a rich environment for storytelling? Were their elements within the Metrozone that you found particularly believable? Conversely, what do you think didn’t work so well?
  3. There are a great many nods to popular SF culture in the book, along with a plot that’s a homage to the first-wave cyberpunk novels of the 80s and 90s. Does this limit the book’s appeal to middle-aged geeks who recognise the Gibsonesque elements and the quotes from Aliens? For those of you who are familiar with Neuromancer and Snowcrash, did Equations of Life bring anything new to the party?
  4. The author first wrote about Reconstruction back in the late 1990s, when it seemed highly speculative (to say the least) that anyone could gain public office in the USA running on a ultra-conservative Christian platform, let alone challenge for the executive and legislature. In 2012, that scenario now appears to be more possible. Was this just a lucky guess by the author, used for dramatic purposes, or has this strain always been present in American society? How do you feel about the USA being depicted like this?
  5. The emergence of the AI is depicted as both accidental and gradual, rising out of the subconscious of the VirtualJapan overseer. Do you think that we’re more likely to get true artificial intelligence by deliberate programming, or will it appear spontaneously from an already-complex but dumb system? The AI in Equations of Life is, if not actually mad, certainly very confused. Are AIs simply a risk too far?
  6. One of the criticisms often levelled at SF is its depiction of religion – either it’s absent, or dangerous. Equations of Life takes what is hopefully a more nuanced approach: religion is shown as part of people’s lives, and they behave in ways which reflect their beliefs. Did you feel that this strand in the book added to its complexity?
  7. Likewise, many of the characters were refugees or immigrants: hardly any of them native English people. When you read a book, does it help if the protagonist is, to some degree, like you, or are the different ethnic and social backgrounds of the characters something to be explored and enjoyed?
  8. Petrovitch is, when the novel starts, not a very nice person. By the end, he’s changed a little. How much of his motivation throughout the book was driven by his fledgeling morality, and how much simply by his desire to be proved right?
  9. Some readers have enjoyed Petrovitch’s untranslated potty-mouth Russian insults. Others felt it was unrealistic and frustrating. Did you find it added to the character of Petrovitch, or was it an unwelcome distraction?
  10. The science – and the scientists – in Equation of Life are reasonably close to what we have today, with a couple of extrapolations: quantum computers and neural interfaces. How much science does an SF reader want in their books? And how important is it that the science is done well?