I personally thought that "August" by Bernard Beckett was a more philosophically developed and structured novel than this one, which is why I can't bring myself to rate this book as five stars. From the straightforwardness of the initial storyline I was able to predict roughly half of this relatively short novel’s ending, but there was another, far more significant part I could not predict and slightly shocked me. The ideology of Beckett's future civilization was certainly unconventional, according to my modern-times-processed brain.
This story is set in a very distant future, and Anax reflects back on the era we are living in now as quite a savage and corrupt period of history, like we might of the Ancient Roman Empire, then the destruction of its stability like we would of the Battle of Adrianople and the consequent downfall of the Empire. It seemed to me that the author was suggesting that in spite of all the technological differences separating Ancient times and modern times, no matter how many educational, theological and moral ethics are thoroughly instilled into peoples by their national governments' systems, human nature and 'way of thinking' remain approximately the same.
This idea is enhanced when artificial intelligence is incorporated into the story. Despite the fact that the legendary Adam who interacted with the robot Art was very educated and intelligent, he was unable to match up with his fellow robot in terms of intellectual power because his grasp of logic and the way his ideas about how he thought, the meaning of his being and the operation of free will developed worked on an entirely different wavelength to the AI’s, and the most pathetic thing was that while Adam was coming to terms with the new knowledge that he was the inferior being, he could not understand why, and could not predict the logical thoughts of Art. Observing this from the audience's viewpoint, you began to realise that once faced with a creature that follows more than one path of rational thought, the notion of free will, in any sense of the peculiar phrase, is invalid, and practically every other human notion becomes incoherent in the dominant thinker’s scheme of things. Ultimately all human ’way of thinking’ becomes futile.
I agreed with this idea, but it did not impress me as much as its elaboration in "August", where free will is explained to be an extravagance within only a single line of rational thought, that is, human rational thought.
Another thing I thought about while reading this book was the free will regarding imprisonment- it led my mind back to another text I had read in recent times, "Destiny and Desire" by Carlos Fuentes , which implied that a convicted criminal might wish to remain imprisoned rather than claim freedom because imprisonment grants him freedom from the passion and furies of the accepted notion of freedom. I wondered why Adam so readily accepted the terms of his confinement, and Art too. Adam realised that Art was developing as a result of his conversations with him, and must have been somewhat proud of that in his own human way, but he must also thought he was better off avoiding the 'freedom' that got him convicted. I thought as a result that this is another example of the effect that free will essentially is an illusion, and probably the most fatal illusion. To sum up what in my eyes what the meaning of this book was, if you want freedom, don't expect justice; if you want confinement, you expect painless death, without accompanying feeling . For example, the freedom humanity has now as a result of the weakening of restricting institutions such as the Church led to the development of science, and therefore AI's, which led to bitter consequences...