A Working Theory of Love

Scott Hutchins. Penguin Press, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59420-505-7
In Stegner Fellow Hutchins’s ambitious debut novel, the writings of Dr. Neill Bassett, who committed suicide in 1995 and kept extensive diaries for two decades, form the basis of a linguistic project to create the first software program to process natural language. Though the doctor’s son, Neill Jr., is not a programmer, he’s the only native English speaker at Amiante, the tiny three-man tech firm taking on the task, and his job entails humanizing the program so that it responds like a real person rather than a computer. During the course of the project, the emotionally distant Neill, a divorced 36-year-old living in San Francisco who thinks of himself as “an experienced practitioner at the art of falling apart on the inside while appearing catatonic,” becomes involved with Rachel, a 20-year-old member of a cultlike group that employs questionable methods to engage its members. The relationship never sizzles because Rachel remains a cipher, but Neill’s interactions with the software, which becomes more and more a stand-in for his dead father, and a rival software developer’s provocative end-use plans for a successful Bassett-like program, create intriguing ethical dilemmas and force Neill out of his indifference. Neill’s unusual “one-on-one” with the program is revelatory and exciting. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
Genre: Fiction
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