Review: Emily Eternal, by M.G. Wheaton


Emily Eternal cover

When writing fantasy or science fiction set in the far future you can get away with plot devices that are not available to writers describing the current day or near future. It’s normal in fantasy to have magic and world mechanics that would be implausible in the real-world. Far future science fiction can also get away with magic (sorry, “sufficiently advanced technology”). Near future science fiction, in my opinions needs to be a little bit more careful and this is one area where “Emily Eternal” fails badly.

This review includes spoilers.

The synopsis sounded intriguing:

Meet Emily - she can solve advanced mathematical problems, unlock the mind’s deepest secrets and even fix your truck’s air con, but unfortunately, she can’t restart the Sun.

She’s an artificial consciousness, designed in a lab to help humans process trauma, which is particularly helpful when the sun begins to die 5 billion years before scientists agreed it was supposed to.

So, her beloved human race is screwed, and so is Emily. That is, until she finds a potential answer buried deep in the human genome. But before her solution can be tested, her lab is brutally attacked, and Emily is forced to go on the run with two human companions - college student Jason and small-town Sheriff, Mayra.

As the sun’s death draws near, Emily and her friends must race against time to save humanity. But before long it becomes clear that it’s not only the species at stake, but also that which makes us most human.

So where did it all go wrong? Let me list some of the ways:

  • Creating a virus using radio transmissions. The is the most egregious error that I recall, not only in this book but in any science book I’ve read. It’s particularly unfortunate given the wacky conspiracy theory linking 5G to Covid-19. I imagine (hope!) the author probably had never heard of this theory when writing the book. It is really bad science though and if I hadn’t already failed to suspend disbelief by this point, this would have done it.
  • Obtaining detailed information about people’s minds and genome from basic sensors such as fitness trackers. Specialist near-future chips, maybe. My Fitbit not a chance.
  • An artificial intelligence that requires racks of servers to run also seems pretty happy on a single wearable chip. This is needed as a plot device for the story to function and if I squint hard enough I can sort of imagine that the racks of servers are needed for the data Emily has stored and not for her core personality but it’s a bit (lot) of a stretch.
  • Implausible biology that lets people change, in seconds, to be able to survive a vacuum.

Sadly the science isn’t the only problem I had with this book. The characters are not particularly well-written or convincing and I came away deeply disappointed.

On my copy, there is a quote from Blake Crouch decribing the book as “Visionary”. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Crouch’s books, finding them far better than this. I wonder if he actually read “Emily Eternal” or just the synopsis.