The 2017 Laureate of Nobel Prize in Literature Kazuo Ishiguro returns to his exploration of scientific-fiction after his 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, with his latest book Klara and the Sun.
With a dystopian background, Klara and the Sun shows us the world through an AF (artificial friend)’s perspective. Although it is never explicitly stated in the narrative, it is apparent that the story is set in a world where artificial intelligence is used to provide company for children, and social functions are predominantly dependent on various technologies.
We can see her significant growth in empathising with her host family in a way that is almost close to the human level
Our protagonist Klara starts out as a family helper robot not unlike Amazon’s Alexa, yet throughout the development of the story, we can see her significant growth in empathising with her host family in a way that is almost close to the human level.
Despite her touching and impressive attempts to understand her human hosts, she is treated like an object, a commodity, and an intruder that takes away jobs originally belong to humans. It is striking to see these parallels of human-to-human persecutions and discriminations in our society today being imposed on an AI.
Ishiguro simply displays the human-like, and even much more human qualities, of a non-human character
Similar to Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro simply displays the human-like, and even much more human qualities, of a non-human character, to confront our conceptions about the ‘othered’ groups, and to offer us an opportunity to reflect on the direction technology is moving towards now.
By all accounts, Klara is like all the other protagonists of Ishiguro’s: an unreliable narrator with limited access to the wider world information. However, unlike Christopher Banks’ (When We Were Orphans) wishful thinking and childish obsessions, or the butler’s (The Remains of the Day) selective way of presenting his reality, Klara is the most sincere, genuine and innocent protagonist among Ishiguro’s creations.
We, as readers, cannot deny Klara’s humanity just for her loyalty and authenticity, if not for her willingness to hope and believe. The levels of empathy that she has for her host family are not easily achievable if without ‘human hearts’ as termed in the narrative.
The boundary between human and AI is gently and subtly transgressed in this story
The boundary between human and AI is gently and subtly transgressed in this story without the characters themselves ever detecting the fact, but as readers we have the responsibility to recognize the ambiguities that mirror our real-life biases and categorization pertain different groups of human (or non-human).
Amongst all the other recommending features of Klara and the Sun, the overtones of the novel are as promised by the title, always bestowed by sunshine and an optimistic cheerfulness. We can only take a glimpse of the dark and cyberpunk setting of the near-future American society.
Evidently, flamboyant or grotesque sci-fi construction is not of Ishiguro’s interest. The focalisation consistently remains on Klara’s humane sides, and perhaps in many ways reflects the unhuman sides of the human characters.
In summary, Klara and the Sun provides an uncommon angle to examine different layers and dimensions of humanity, without betraying the core, to understand the lives of people different from us. If anything, this novel dissects and transforms this quintessential aim and reason why we ever create arts.
Featured image courtesy of David Orban via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.
In-article images courtesy of @faberbooks via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
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