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Klara and the Sun: A Short Book Review of an (Open)AI friend

As my days in New Zealand are beginning to come to an end, it´s time for my last article written down under. During my time in neighboring Australia, a friend of mine challenged me to read a book in under 5 hours during one of our lazy days. As you can assume, that book was Klara and the Sun, a book that normally would not appeal to me. However, my need for approval got the better of me, which ended up leading to 3,5 hours of mild entertainment.

Mild entertainment may sound like a sign of disappointment, but it has more to do with my disinterest in the sub-genre rather than the book itself. Truth be told, the book itself is actually quite good and self-contained, which I can appreciate from time to time as I´m normally drawn to anthologies and sagas. I also enjoyed the subtle nature of the book, as quite a few plot details are hidden in off-handed comments by the characters, or between the lines. Before delving deeper into the book's strengths and weaknesses, I will first give a brief synopsis.

Illustration of Josie and Klara, two of the main charachters. Source: Jenna Sharaf

Klara and The Sun (2021) is a book about an artificial robot called Klara. Klara is an AF (artificial friend) whose purpose is to act as a friend to teenagers to help them develop healthy habits and strong social skills. The book follows the robot's journey from being a storefront prop to an integral part of a troubled family, and also describes the world through how a sentient AI might interpret it. This is usually a good combination when it comes to humor, which is noticeable when it comes to a certain subplot about a construction vehicle. The main focus of the book however, is tackling ethical dilemmas regarding AI and its capabilities of noble/unethical usage. Finding out what the dilemma was is what kept me turning the pages, so I´ll refrain from mentioning it here, but I enjoyed the thought exercise the climax provided. Furthermore, I really liked the subversion of expectations the book provided as I was unsure for the better part of the book how certain plotlines would uncurl or where characters' stories would lead.

While the plot of the book was strong, I did not enjoy reading the dialogue. I found it to be a bit stiff, and the characters weren´t particularly engaging. Klara, whose point of view you read from, is the exception to the rule as her unique circumstances and the fact that I read her thoughts made her interesting. The mother is also an interesting character as her action are quite central to the moral dilemma, and the circumstances that justify her actions is a devil's advocate's dream come true since she comes across as a complex, yet very sympathetic character. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Josie, the child that Klara befriends and the daughter of the family, did not appeal to me at all as she was essentially just a plot device who other characters revolved around. I do think that fewer pages allocated to her interaction with Klara would have been beneficial for the book. Lastly, Josie's love interest Rick was not a super interesting character as he was essentially a small-town boy stereotype, but it is worth mentioning that I did enjoy the later part of his subplot. The rest of the characters did not really leave much of an impression.

Author Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Photo Source: Ian Thomson

In conclusion, Klara and The Sun is a plot-centric book told from an interesting perspective as it tackles dilemmas tied to relationship-focused AI. While it has a strong narration, cleverly hiding exposition and foreshadowing between the lines, it suffers from stiff dialogue and underwhelming characters besides a select few. I wouldn´t say it's a bad book by any stretch, but the book would most likely not be worth it if you were a carbon copy of me. It is a very popular book though, so if you are slightly allured then give it a try!

Until next time!

Other works by Kazuo Ishiguro that might be of interest:

  • When We Were Orphans (2000)

  • The Buried Giant (2015)

  • A Pale View of Hills (1982)

  • The Unconsoled (1995)

  • Never Let Me Go (2005)

  • An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

  • The Remains of the Day (1989)

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