No. 6: They'd Rather Be Right


Back to the last of the Retro Hugos, today it's They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley. I'd heard this book bandied about as an example of ideological fiction in Hugo history, so I came at it with considerable curiosity.

Elevator Pitch Summary: At the behest of the government some scientists develop an artificial intelligence, called Bossy, which the public lashes out against, and then a guy with psi powers uses it to unlock the latent psi powers in people (also granting youth and stuff), and then there's more backlash, and then one bright idea solves everything.

What I Like: Um. Well. I liked... uh... Mabel? At least before she got changed. So, that's a thing?

What I Don't Like: Pretty much everything, if I'm honest. I may have ruined this for myself by starting it at the exact same time as I began dating my husband, who works in AI. The contrast between how AI actually works, and what this book thought would work, was pretty jarring. Plus, the reliance on theories of the mind that have not exactly passed the test of time did not do it any favors. You have to swallow a lot to suspend your disbelief, is what I'm saying.

I also have very short patience with mind-reading characters (I was amazed that The Demolished Man worked as well as it did for me), but I fully acknowledge that this is a pet peeve and should not be considered a dealbreaker if you're cool with that.

This book is also very nakedly elitist. There's no other way of saying it. Scientists, people who don't judge others, and people with psi abilities are good; literally everyone else is stupid and bad and getting in the way of progress and the race might well be better off without them. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. I won't pretend that I don't have a pretty grim view of human nature myself, but I believe strongly in being an equal opportunity pessimist. If you, like me, resent strongly the implicating that there is a superior class of more intelligent humans who are more deserving and must make decisions for the rest of us--well, you're not going to enjoy They'd Rather Be Right.

Finally, toweringly, it's just... boring. There's only so much breathless blow-by-blow of outdated how-to-build-an-AI that I can take.

Extra Thoughts: I took some time between reading this book and reviewing it, and I forgot an enormous amount of the plot. I'm not normally one to forget plots--I have a much better memory for fictional people than real ones, truth be known--but this one bored me so thoroughly that I could barely bring myself to recall it.

My Recommendation: Unless you're slogging heroically through Hugo winners, like me, give it a miss.

Hugo-Worthy?: No. I don't think this novel is worth of any award.

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