New novel explores connections between technology and human desire to love

Brooklyn BookBeat: Author to Speak in DUMBO on Sept. 16

September 13, 2016 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Novelist Liz Moore will speak in DUMBO on Sept. 16. Photo: © Olivia Valentine
Share this:

Liz Moore, known for her novels “The Words of Every Song” and the much-acclaimed “Heft,” has recently published “The Unseen World” (W.W. Norton & Company), a novel that explores the complex bonds between a daughter and her father, spanning decades from the 1950s all the way to an imagined foreseeable future.

The book has already earned rave reviews from critics; Téa Obreht, the award-winning author of “The Tiger’s Wife,” says, “In sparse, urgent prose, Liz Moore delivers a staggeringly beautiful meditation on love, legacy and emotional necessities that make life worth living.”

Brooklynites will have a chance to hear Moore speak about her book on Sept. 16, when the author will appear at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO (28 Adams St., 7 p.m.) for a joint book launch party with Alexandra Kleeman, author of “Intimations.”

Subscribe to our newsletters

Moore’s book introduces readers to Ada Sibelius, who, in the 1980s, is a painfully shy 12-year-old prodigy being raised by her single father, David, who heads a prestigious computer science lab at the Boston Institute of Technology. David and his colleagues are hard at work on ELIXIR, a self-teaching “chatbot” program that aims to have the ability to naturally converse with humans, and to continue conversations using ever-accumulating data. Homeschooled, Ada accompanies her father to work every day and contributes regularly to the lab’s work on ELIXIR.

While the lab begins to gain acclaim, Ada begins to notice signs of David’s faltering mind, his brilliance turning into perpetual forgetfulness and his actions becoming more and more mysterious. Eventually, to Ada’s and everyone’s shock, David is forced to reveal that he has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Seeing as David is the only family Ada has, David’s close friend and colleague Diana Liston offers to become Ada’s legal guardian, but through the paperwork process they discover that David may not be who he says he is. As her father’s memory fades, Ada gradually begins to discover that his past is filled with secrets, until eventually his entire identity comes into question.

The narrative follows Ada through her childhood, which she spends learning to interact with other children for the first time, into young adulthood, and then into middle age in a distant future as she seeks to uncover the truth of her father’s past. It also turns back to give us glimpses of David’s youth in the 1950s and reveals the harrowing secrets of his life, based in part on a real chapter of American history that only recently has come to light. In adulthood, Ada pioneers “The Unseen World,” an advanced virtual reality program that enables users to go anywhere in the world, past or present, and feel, smell, taste and experience what they see in their headsets, with no consequences in the real world.

It is only as Ada becomes a mother herself, after decades of searching and living through generations of various technologies from ELIXIR to “The Unseen World,” that she is finally able to unlock the mystery that is her father and reconcile with the man who taught her everything.  

Though the story spans decades and contains numerous interwoven plotlines, Moore keeps the novel sharply focused on universal themes of family, love and identity, offering meditations on the sacrifices we make to hold onto all three. In a final twist, Moore brings together the novel’s past and present narratives into a culmination that will leave readers pondering the role of technology in our world.

While there have been many fictional works about the connection between people and AI, Moore’s book is a refreshing alternative that treats machines not as the driving force of a dystopic society, but as an evolving and complex partner to humans. For Moore, machines can be programmed to listen and learn. And isn’t this what all of us humans are constantly training ourselves to do? In a vein akin to Spike Jonze’s acclaimed film “Her,” “The Unseen World” is a timely tale about the deep connections between technology and the human desire to communicate and love.  

Liz Moore is the author of the novels “The Words of Every Song” and the much-acclaimed “Heft.” A winner of the 2014 Rome Prize in Literature, she is a professor at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, where she lives. For more about Liz and her work, visit www.lizmoore.net.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment