Book Review: “The Path” by Peter Riva

((I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review)).

All life on earth is about to be terminated by an entity as old as the galaxy itself. To make matters worse, Simon has broken everything already.

In a future world that is run by computer systems and that is without want, how can a man find his role? Then, if the very computers he works on to try to make them more human suddenly try to kill him, revealing a secret so vast that it affects every living soul on the planet, can that man be a hero?

These are the questions that face the stumbling, comic, and certainly flawed Simon Bank. His job is to work with the System’s artificial intelligence, making it fit more perfectly into human society so that it can keep the country running smoothly. But when the System threatens the peaceful world he knows, Simon suddenly must rush to save his own life, as well as the life of everyone on earth. Forced to reassess everything that he thought he knew, he is caught within circumstances way beyond his control.

Simon’s only hope is to rely on intellect and instincts he didn’t know he had, and on new friends, not all of them human, to change himself and all humanity. And he doesn’t have much time (Amazon.com).

I am not a computer genius. Let that be known far and wide. It took me hours of careful learning to even master Microsoft Office. And I certainly can’t code to save my life.

All of that to say? The Path by Peter Riva is a book about a computer genius who manages to outsmart himself into creating a new life form via computing technology. And a great deal of it? Went right over my head. This book is science fiction, emphasis on the science and light on characterization. While it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, it does feature a competent plot line for those interested in a hard edge, adult science fiction experience.

This is Simon Bank’s story, told from first person perspective in a very nonlinear, stream of consciousness style. This makes for a conversational narrative that is sometimes difficult to follow, especially as the author casually tosses in the myriad of computer science terms. I have to applaud his techno world-building, but I can hardly critique it, except to say that for non-hardcore computer techs, it might be hard to wade through. Much of the action sequences and dialog were weighed down by the heft of the created world.

The philosophical elements were intriguing. The Path features a future in which self-gratification is the norm. By drastic genocidal actions, the new America has built a country where everyone can have what they want, because population and procreation is strictly controlled. Simon Bank’s wry commentary clearly reveals how unsatisfying this is. Furthermore, author Riva uses his fiction to make cutting commentary on American isolationist policies and the end result of an entitlement philosophy.

However, the solutions and worldview of this book were an odd amalgamation of humanism and anti-humanism. Believe in people, even though people aren’t worth believing in, because sometimes they are. Because even though humanity messes up, sometimes they don’t. This was explained via some large chunks of historical backstory that weren’t fully integrated into the story, and while I do enjoy reading other perspectives, in this case I finished the book entirely confused with what worldview the author had.

Note: this is hard science fiction aimed for adults. As such, there is strong language, sexual references, and mature themes.

Final Verdict: The Path by Peter Riva is concept-heavy science fiction/cyberpunk that’s long on technological world-building, and short on characterization and clarity. If you like very technical stories mingled with an assortment of philosophical musings in a free-flowing narrative? This might be the book for you.

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