Adrienne Martini Reviews Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

Tell the Machine Goodnight, Katie Williams (Riverhead 978-0-525-53312-2, $25.00, 304 pp, hc) June 2018.

Katie Williams may win Best Title of 2018 with Tell the Machine Goodnight. In many ways, those four words tell you exactly what you need to know about this book, which seems to have slipped under the SFnal radar despite being most definitely science fiction.

The fictional science in question is the Apricity machine. Once your DNA is sampled by a licensed operator and scanned by the smallish box, the read-out will tell you the three things you need to do to be happy. “Eat tangerines on a regular basis, work at a desk that receives morning light, and amputate the uppermost section of [your] right index finger” is what a man is told by Apricity operator Pearl in the first few pages. His response? “Does it have to be tangerines, or will any citrus do?” That response tells you two things about Williams and this book: 1) her sense of humor is dry and 2) this machine is well-integrated into this near-future version of the US West Coast.

She continuously shifts viewpoint characters and story threads, picking one up or dropping one as she weaves them all together to form a sturdy cloth. Pearl’s thread is the first and last we see, but they all entwine with her and with what the machine tells them. Saying more, however, would subtract from your own maximum happiness because some of the best parts of the book are in the juxtapositions.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the December 2018 issue of Locus.

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