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Tracing The Stars

I read mostly science fiction and romance, and often a combination of the two.


Semmant - Vadim Babenko Originally posted on http://www.TracingTheStars.com - I was provided a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I am going to start off by saying that the above synopsis, provided on Goodreads and Amazon, gives a completely skewed and incorrect tone, assumption and impression to readers about this book. The above synopsis sounds more like a suspense filled, fast paced sci-fi married with some sci-fi romance and erotica. This book is none of the above. This book, however, is wonderful in its own right. I know the synopsis was written this way to get more people to buy it, because if the synopsis matched the actual material and style of the book, it would have a hard time breaking into the market.

Why? People, these days, don’t have time (or don’t want to take the time) to read thick books.

When I say thick books, I am referring not to the size but to the content. This book is more aptly defined as a modern classic, with tone and social commentary introspective reflection that hearkens back to Bradbury, Huxley and Stanislav. It has rythm and substance, in fact, the pages are almost weighed down by it. Endless meanderings resulting in quotable, memorable nuggets of “ah!” moments that cause you to set the book down and think for time over the true meanings of the phrases used. This is a book, like Semmant, that thinks for itself and asks you to do the same or get left behind.

The book starts off in the most unlikely of places – a mental ward in Spain. Here we meet Bogdan, the man whose head we will be the passenger in for the remainder of the tale. It’s his tale, that he is reflecting back on as part of a journal he is writing in the hospital.

“My days are scheduled right down to the hour, to the very minute, and yet I’m not in a hurry.”

Indeed, Bogdan is in no hurry to tell his story in any kind of short order. The next nine chapters (nearly 23% of the book on my Kindle) are spent as a set up – giving you a history and idea of what makes Bogdan tick. We discover his family had a Gypsy lifestyle until he was discovered to be an Indigo child. (For those unfamiliar, here is a link to learn about the Indigo phenomenon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigo_children) After this discovery, he is moved to a special school with other Indigos. Eventually, the Indigo program ends and he finds himself employed by a stock market broker. This sets him along his path to the creation of Semmant.

”One thing leads to another,” I told myself. “The connection is obvious. I’m on the right path.”

Bogdan creates Semmant to be a stock-market playing computer with a goal to change the way in which people interact with the stock market and allow regular people to become profitable. He programs Semmant with a full learning brain (artificial intelligence) and then gives Semmant the task of playing and learning the market. This is when Bogdan’s mind begins to stumble down the path from creative genus to mad creator.

“Gradually, I was getting accustomed to the role of Creator, to drawing the boldest of analogies. What was it like in the quantum mocroverse that I had so carelessly discarded?”

“Of course, it would have been easier to task a simple program with this work, but I somehow understood: everything had to be done by hand. I am the Creator, not some soulless ‘macro’.”

All is going well, until Semmant experiences uncertainty in the market and backs away from it. Then we get to Chapter 9, and thus the heart of the story between Bogdan, Semmant (from the fluffed up synopsis) finally begins. The actual synopsis story of suspense, love, an AI gone wrong and betrayal doesn't begin until close to 50% in. (But I think it is worth getting there, so don't get me wrong.)

“Here’s what happened: I wrote a poem. Twenty lines without rhyme, a spasmodic shout into emptiness and obscurity.”

Bogdan ends up entering his poem into Semmant’s programming and it signals a turning point for Semmant’s development. Bogdan inputs more lyrics and Semmant evolves emotional responses and actions based on understanding more than logic.

“Strangely, I did not understand before then: the cocoon of impassivity binds more effectively than steel chains. You cannot compute the taste of victory with sober calculations. One must be involved – and biases, not indifferent. Otherwise, even the most ingenious brain could not manage to prove itself.”

Semmant is a book that should be consumed slowly, like a glass of malt – savored for it’s subtle layers and pondered over for its golden, world-distorting hue. In fact, I plan to read it a second time, and perhaps a third, as I am most certain there are things I missed and more nuggets for my finger to highlight in my Kindle. More thoughts to stash away and review later. Interesting questions raised and not to be so quickly forgotten.

“Why not five stars?“, you may ask. I feel like, although it is long for its reasons, it could have been shorn down in several places without losing its overall substance. It is quite apparent that the author is a scientist in the fields the book references, and he is also a postulate thinker. I hate to say that parts of this book could have been sacrificed to tighten the story, but it could have been. At times, it truly reads like a ranting manifesto, losing its path to take several unnecessary turns before folding back in on itself like a mobius strip.

I recommend this book for all lovers of classical science fiction and who are willing to take the time to sit down and really get to know a book instead of demanding a drive-through style story with soggy fries and a half-cooked burger.