Author: Dean Alexandrou
Genre: SciFi / Dystopian / Artificial Intelligence
Year Published: 2023
“Nerdection Must Read”
In this jaw-dropping sci-fi book SYMUTAL, Dean Alexandrou challenges the limits of what Artificial Intelligence will become in the future. Oh, and there’s lots of action, conspiracy schemes (don’t we all love to conspire), and of course geeks doing all kinds of cool programming. Sprinkle in it a little Kung Fu and you’re good to go. Interesting, right? Well, you’re nowhere near correct. Because that’s just the beginning.
Spoiler Free Plot of SYMUTAL
Somewhere in the world, a woman named Marena Chu is arrested for theft. Only, she didn’t commit it. She only intended to do that- and the Artificial Intelligence systems detected the slight change in her demeanor and arrested her. Because that’s how things are done now. Not on cause and effect. But by statistical calculations and probability. If there’s even a small percent chance of you committing a crime, you should as well be busted…
Page is one hell of a programmer, socially awkward and amateur, yes, but a genius programmer all the same. He’s been working arduously on a simulation project. However, he only needs adequate money and devices to run his program. With no other options, he plans to turn to some rich company and offer his services in exchange for money. Not to mention he also needs some computer memory…
Omar Cantor, the founder of a Technology Corporation named Omicore, believes that Artificial Intelligence systems should not be allowed to monopolize the world. So he antagonizes the Government-run AI systems by launching one of his own, called SYMUTAL. But nothing is legal when it challenges the authority of those who make the laws. Wary of the prying eyes of the government, Omar launches SYMUTAL far away from reach: On the Moon…
Soon Omar’s private corporation is discovered by one of the Government’s meddlesome agencies. Alert to their tactics, he hires Page to upgrade Omicore’s security network. What Omar doesn’t know, is that Page has already bypassed all his security measures. And that he’s been using some of Omicore’s memory for his simulations all the time…
Tan’s life is a messy jumble of Deja Vu and threats in the form of property agents. However, one thing is constant, his love for his wife and daughter. As he continues to face one problem repeatedly, he learns to solve it – much like a mathematical equation. But real-life problems are nothing like mathematical equations, the variables and formulas vary too much for this. Nonetheless, Tan soon discovers that his life is far from real when he meets more and more versions of himself…
What are the odds of Omar’s plans working out against the mighty-and-high government? And a still bigger question, What if the world we’re living in is nothing but a simulation?
Read SYMUTAL to find out!
My Take on SYMUTAL
I love reading about characters with extraordinary minds. Luckily, Alexandrou’s characters fit the equation nicely. Plus he also made them sound relatable. With a mad-genius Page, a martial arts expert Tan and an ambitious Omar, we get a wide range of characters you’ll fall in love with.
The world-building of SYMUTAL is so splendid as if Alexandrou went there, witnessed everything with his eyes, and lived to tell the tale. It’s 2057 in SYMUTAL, and Alexandrou’s depiction of the AI-obsessed world is harsh yet fitting, depending on how we’re shifting gradually toward the automation of all systems. A conflict is introduced within the very first scene of the book and I was left… aghast. Statistical Crimes (punishment for intending to do a crime) is a terrific concept. But it seems very likely in the future where a domineering government with the necessary tools at hand (AI’s) takes over.
‘How can I be arrested for something that I haven’t done?’ Hopelessness was seeping in.
‘You were going to do it Marena. Maybe not right away, but soon enough that it showed up in the data. The system is backed up by rigorous math and studies. It works.’The scene where Marena is arrested for only ‘intending’ to commit theft
The plot is character-driven. I have read many books centered around the theme of ‘how artificial intelligence will take control of the world’. However, I’m surprised to admit that SYMUTAL has topped the list for me. Just like that. This is the kind of book you pull an all-nighter for. The first few chapters are a little messy and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But the good thing is that the chapters are short and sure enough I was hooked.
Alexandrou excels in keeping up an air of enigma throughout the book. Things unfold gradually, yet the book never becomes slow. It has a kind of an addictive nature to it. The writing is picturesque, and the characters have a flair for the dramatic. Besides, the concept of consciousness and existentialism were also elaborated, and it was so beautifully done… it will give you goosebumps.
‘It’s beautiful,’ said Sync.’They say that god is an artist, and paints her dreams in the sky.’
‘Under the paint is an even more beautiful work of creation,’ said Page. ‘They say that god is a poet, writing sonnets of physics in the language of maths.’Page and Sync appreciating the sky’s beauty
I wanted to read more about Omar’s company but his story got foreshadowed at some points by Page’s. SYMUTAL also had extensive scenes where the characters run codes or explain technical programming stuff. But those were explained clearly and I had no problem in understanding, though I have no background in programming. Moreover, there were so many twists and turns that there was no way you can guess anything. The story literally goes upside down from the start. It was all about political games and the lengths totalitarian governments go to. It was about power, riches, and tech- and the yearning to understand one’s subconscious mind.
Overall, I had a great experience reading SYMUTAL and would love to reread it. Furthermore, once you read the book, be prepared for this soon to become a motion picture to enjoy!
Content Warnings/ Recommended for…
I’d recommend it for ages 14+. There’s little explicit content, a lot of cursing, and some violence. Recommended for fans of Neuromamcer and other AI science-fiction books.
About The Author Of SYMUTAL
Dean Alexandrou started programming at the ripe old age of 6, using a BBC Micro Model B (a clone of the ZX Spectrum) in LOGO. His first program was to draw a square. Like many programmers of that age however, the real goal was not the flawless execution of an optimised set of instructions, it was to impress His older brother, Nick.
So without the aid of a project manager to help, or StackOverflow to provide the answers, He toiled away. Eight instructions later it was a glittering success. Four solid white lines lit up the screen. Nick was impressed.
In taking on this task however, Dean accomplished something much more valuable – He became fascinated. Fascinated that a small list of words could make something shiny in the world. Fascinated that numbers could go in one end and lines could come out the other. Fascinated that he made a square without using a crayon. Fascinated that there was something abstract about reality that went beyond the sense of touch, sound, or smell…
He had discovered programming.
As Dean grew up, through schooling and into the world of work, hardly a day has gone by that he have not sat at a computer and written code. It has shaped the way he view the universe, and how he think about reality in ways that are too deep for him to unpick.
SYMUTAL was written between 2020 and 2023, a period in which he worked almost exclusively as a freelance programmer – a digital nomad connecting remotely to servers from hotel rooms, spending his time lost in the minutiae of 3D graphics pipelines. An instruction whore, swapping bytes for bucks, pixels for perks.
“Although the story is fiction and the events are somewhat fanciful, it includes many insights gleaned through real-life experiences. Despite the occasional autobiographical elements, I would like to emphasise to the companies I’ve worked for that there are no experiments into simulated consciousness hidden on their servers! …at least, none that I am aware of.”Dean Alexandrou about SYMUTAL