Barely Human by dhtreichler

Sage Washington is back for a return engagement as an immortal CEO in this remarkable sequel to dhtreichler’s earlier novel, Ghost In the Machine. 

Transitioned into a twenty-year-old version of her forty-year-old former self to avoid impending death, Sage is seeking to make the very most of her new abilities and new role as AppleCore’s first immortal CEO.

She’s tough and unrelenting, driving her software development team to new heights of productivity. But inwardly, she wonders sometimes if the world is really ready for an entirely new race of people with the potential to rule the planet.

The author once again shows his masterful ability to compellingly and disturbingly mesh the disparate worlds of groundbreaking science fiction with hard-charging corporate management techniques. Anyone who works now in the rarified air of a big company’s C-Suites — CEO, CFO, COO, etc. — or wants to — will be fascinated by exposure to the author’s ultra-realistic command of upper management motivational techniques.

It really is enlightening, for example, to be privy to the inner dialogue that accompanies many of Sage’s actions geared toward gaining more productivity per individual. Much of it is more than a little calculating and even a bit manipulative — which leads her to wonder about the loss of her humanity as a result of being transitioned to immortal status.

At one point she summarily fires a department head for ducking a colleague’s question about how he is going to solve a problem within his sphere of influence. Stunned, the man is quickly escorted out of the building by security guards while the other team members suddenly snap to attention and prepare to substantially up their game.

In another instance, she silences a subordinate’s voice box because he isn’t being a team player, then brusquely defends the punitive intervention when he asks what he is supposed to do now and how he will communicate.

“Think about how you add value to the team you are assigned to in the role you are assigned,” she says. Another team member adds, “You’ll figure it out.”

Throughout the book various interpolations of the “what aspects of humanity have we lost?” question resurface, Even the topic of achieving the perfect orgasm is examined, since Sage must now rely solely on software code to tell her whether the experience she just had with her boss, A’zam, was as good or better than her memories, which are stored in a cerebral microchip.

This kind of extensive narrative discussion on the various aspects and consequences of achieving immortal status make for a fascinating departure from most action-driven novels dealing with such futuristic themes. Here, the reader is forced, like Sage, to form an opinion on the relative merits of immortality. It makes for a very rewarding intellectual exercise.

About a quarter of the way into the book, an element of conflict arises when a plan is revealed to put hidden self-limiting elements into the software of all immortals — the digital equivalent of mind control. All immortals will lose the ability to choose their own actions in certain key situations. This order comes from A’zam, whose character is chillingly complex with equal portions of megalomania, race superiority and massive misogyny thrown into his portrayal. His notion of eventual global control — no matter how many millennia it takes — is both subtle and frighteningly plausible. He’s a whole new breed of bad guy.

And Sage? Her brilliantly drawn character is more difficult to assess. A long-standing conflict with her father lingers in the background of her behavior, mitigating to some degree her hardball management style and reputation as a “man-eater.’

But not everything she does in the corporate arena can be explained away by her recent transition and subsequent loss of human feelings. Even factoring in near-constant meddling and #MeToo caliber sexual harassment by A’zam, Sage remains, in the end, a true believer in her approach to building a winning and productive team. Will it achieve the results she’s after? Stay tuned for Emergence, book three in this well-written trilogy.

We award Almost Human our highest rating of five-plus stars for its stark look at what could happen when all-too-human characters attain godlike status through technological advancements. The result makes for a satisfying and  thought-provoking read this summer — or whenever you can put it on your must-read list.


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