Oh, my, let’s unpack this one. First off, this book is a good choice if you’re shopping for a scifi story for someone who maybe isn’t all that into science fiction but loves kids and understands the parenting life, or anyone who’s given any real thought to what artificial intelligence might be like and what it would mean for ordinary people.
Building Baby Brother is a story made for Silicon Valley parents—wherever they may live. It has such a multi-layered dimensionality, you’ll be peering at your neighbors, wondering if that’s them, if this story isn’t fiction, but thinly-veiled fact.
The story begins with a typical divorced father managing a well-ordered shared upbringing relationship for the child he and his ex are raising together…but separately. The ex has her issues, Dad has his failings, but they both care about Josh, a wonderful kid whose one ask is “when can I have a baby brother?”
Parents want to provide for their kids. Don’t they? And this dad, once he stops to think about it, realizes he has the capability to provide his son with some of what he needs: a companion to play with, a buddy to share secrets with, a fellow child to grow up with. Gavin is just what Josh needs. What Dad needs Josh to experience.
Wait….back up a minute there. Secrets? Before Dad knows it, Gavin’s doing things he hadn’t designed him for, because Josh taught him new things, ways to access information Dad didn’t think Baby Brother would need. But what were the kids to do when they needed to make just a few improvements to their favorite video game? What would a Silicon Valley kid do? Of course, they get online and add the mods they want. And Gavin’s got the inside track on modifying software, being mostly software himself.
Gavin is an AI. And also a child. And what does a child do best?
Learn. And what do you do for a child that needs to learn, who is a good person, one who’s your other child’s best friend?
You help. Of course. Because that’s what a parent does.
What follows shouldn’t be a spoiler, unless you failed to read the blurb on the book.
EXTREMELY MILD SPOILER ALERT.
Stop here if need be. Grab tissues if you’re ok with indirect spoilers.
What happens when a child has learned all they can from their parents?
You mean when they’re all grown up?
Oh. Right. That.
<holds out tissue box>
END OF SPOILER-ADJACENT MATERIAL
Building Baby Brother isn’t fear-the-AI, instead it drives straight to that point all parents say they’re working towards, but that tears them apart, all the same, when it finally happens. If you’re a crier, be sure you have tissues handy. If you’re a parent, be glad you have all those years ahead.
Or do you? It’s you, isn’t it, with the workshop and the spare parts and the know-how? Think, first. OK?