Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguru is a beautifully written book warning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution disguised as an exploration of whether robots have souls.
(Spoiler alert: They do not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t demonstrate goodness. Or, in Klara’s case, perhaps…be good.)
Klara is an average AF (Artificial Friend) awaiting purchase from the store she came to consciousness in, eager to be whisked to the home of a lonely child.
Kazuo Ishiguru, Literary Minimalist
Literary minimalism is characterized by specifically focused writing, lacking backstories and flowery descriptions. The reader knows what the character knows, as they know it (or as the character chooses to reveal).
But Ishiguru is exemplary in his ability to evoke an unearthly vibe in ten words or less. The lack of a backstory and the clipped character dialogue lends to the unease.
You’re not sure what’s going on, but you know it’s not good.
Asking The Big Questions
Kazuo makes readers think while creeping them out.
Of course, Klara and The Sun just stumbles into some of these tropes. She’s a robot designed to love. Can she, even? And what is love? Can humans even do it? Blah blah blah.
Much like how Never Let Me Go covers these issues but spotlights medical agency, Klara and The Sun does the same concerning workforce automation.
If work can be automated, can…everything? And what are the effects of that?
Klara and The Sun Review
Ishiguru’s latest novel examines the implications of automating our relationships, workforce, socialization, and, in some extreme cases, even our talent.
Klara and The Sun takes place in a distant future in which children use Artificial Friends like Klara to ward off societal loneliness.
The same families that can afford AF’s can also afford to “lift” (or genetically engineer) their children. This tampering can lead to higher IQ’s and bigger talents, ideal for entrance into highly competitive colleges.
But, sometimes, the lifting can make one sick. Josie, the child who picks Klara, is one of those cases.
Josie’s mother is defiant in the face of fear, having wanted Josie lifted in the first place. Josie’s “substituted (job automated)” father is estranged. And Josie’s sister is dead.
Klara’s purpose is to assist Josie in every way. But she’s just a robot, standing in front of a sick teenager, trying to navigate a society mangled by isolation and genetic hierarchy.
I enjoyed Klara and The Sun‘s brief, striking prose. As usual, Kazuo Ishiguru acts as the literary canary in our societal coal mine.
We should listen.