The Gardens of Pryme
by Mike Williamson

"The old man spoke all night until the horizon lit up and the stars faded, and the magical coffee pot never emptied or became cold."

After getting a report of an irregularity, Stef Barak is asked to investigate. He finds the whole incident unusual because he cannot remember a time when any investigating officer was actually sent out to a location. The trip through the tunnels is much longer than Stef anticipates, but that small peculiarity is nothing compared to what he stumbles upon next. The site he is investigating is outside. That seems impossible. No one lives outside, and no one goes outside. Yet here he is, visiting a strange and fascinating woman named Pryme who lives in a house outside the domed and protected city with a drone that interacts with humans. Things get even weirder as Stef is informed that the furniture and food are real and not materialized by Control, that there are animals outside, and there are real plants and lakes. Stef realizes he is going to need help with this puzzle and seeks assistance from a couple of historians and another colleague who works for Control. In addition, he talks to Control, who informs him that it will be up to him to figure things out and decide about humanity’s future because there is a looming threat.

Drawing from early science fiction authors and some ideas of many futurists, Williamson creates a near-utopian world in which to set his story. One of the biggest influences on this work is Isaac Asimov. He introduced the Three Laws of Robotics in a short story titled “Runaround.” Williamson uses these rules as a guiding principle for the robots in his writing. Far into the future, civilization lives in The City, or cities, under mountains and unexposed to the outside. Even on different planets, these cities are connected by wormholes that can be traveled through while inside a bubble. However, there is not much traveling. Most people seem content to do their small tasks and live in their one-room apartments where Control can materialize just about anything they need, from furniture to food. As the protagonist furthers the story, Williamson reveals that resources necessary for survival ran out a long time ago, but extinction was avoided by using time travel and wormholes. However, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are colliding. Although drones and Control have taken over most things to keep humans from the wars and prejudices they can’t avoid, this new situation requires a creative solution that the A.I. will not be able to produce.

Williamson’s writing is easy to read and well-paced. His initial creation of tension through the protagonist finding the mystery of people living outside is expertly crafted and pulls the reader further into the story. The puzzles about what is going on, how much Control is involved, and what threat looms keep the reader engaged through most of the book. However, as the mysteries begin to be revealed, the explanations feel somewhat inadequate and lack the depth and urgency needed to satisfy while highlighting the questions unanswered from the beginning. Still, readers who enjoy books about how the future of our universe may look when populated by humans and A.I. will likely find Williamson’s novel to be an interesting read.

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