In the Shadow of Humanity

A Novel

Fiction - Science Fiction
341 Pages
Reviewed on 08/24/2022
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

N. John Williams studied computer science, linguistics, and philosophy at Stanford University before working on DARPA-funded research in A.I. and then later in private enterprise. He has presented papers at academic conferences around the country on topics in Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Ethics.

He writes as an open invitation, seeking engagement and discussion not on the issues of the day, but on the issues of tomorrow. "Story" will likely play a more important role than "argument" in grappling with these issues, and that is why he wrote his first novel, In the Shadow of Humanity. That story is meant to be a beginning, however, and not an ending.

N. John Williams lives in Southern California with his beloved wife and their infant son.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Bruce Arrington for Readers' Favorite

In the Shadow of Humanity by N. John Williams, is a science fiction story about two brothers who struggle to define their relationship with each other. One is a human, and the other, not quite. His essence, as it were, was copied from a couple’s son who died early on. Technology at this time is advanced, artificial intelligence is common, as is the metaverse, online, computer-controlled world in which people live. One of the issues in the story deals with AI and its acceptance into society. Should those AI individuals be treated equally to humans? What rights should they have, or are they just property to be used and discarded?

The two ‘brothers’ - Jon and Nat - exemplify the strain in their relationship after their parents are gone and one of them technically owns the other. This means that one can control what the other does at any time, or if he so chooses, erase the other from existence. What will the human brother decide? I found the descriptions and other parts of this world-building adventure so real that it almost seems as if N. John Williams is a time traveler who simply wrote down what he saw in the future. In the Shadow of Humanity felt real, genuine, and yet other-worldly, in that often the scenes we are reading are not in the current world of bricks and mortar. The characters converse and interact in these computer-simulated worlds, with so much detail that it transports you away in space and time.

Kim Anisi

Nat, the protagonist of In the Shadow of Humanity by N. John Williams, is the A.I. version of Jon's dead brother. Jon's brother died when he was still very young, and a so-called "shade" was cast of him in the Metaverse. Nat grew up like a normal person, just that he never lived in the normal, outside world. This is not such a big disadvantage as the "real" world of this novel is not such an appealing place at all. It's no surprise that most people spend a lot of their time in virtual worlds. It could all be perfect for Nat, if he did not want more from his life and if he had not run into a problem that leads to more questions. After another incident during which another virtual being is abused by a human, Nat gets pulled into a web of secrets - but will it be a web that offers him safety or will he eventually also fall victim to the spider who wove that web?

The topic of A.I. interested me long before reading In the Shadow of Humanity by N. John Williams and it is one of the reasons I picked this book up. My first encounter with the issue of what/who is human and what/who is not was when I watched Star Trek as a child. The character Data, an android, fascinated me, and the episodes that explored his search for his human side were always interesting. While the premise of Mr. Williams' novel is a different one, it comes down to the same questions about life, be it "natural" or artificial.

I enjoyed the various attitudes about A.I. that were shown within the story and it was interesting that there were also different "qualities" of A.I., i.e. shades and so-called ticks and drones. There was definitely a lot to unpack, and it makes you think about where humanity is going, or where it could go. The thought of internet trolls having certain powers within a metaverse, and abusing those powers, is a bit scary. The novel is worth a read if you like science fiction, especially if you also had a soft spot for characters like Data or Voyager's holo-doc.

Sadiyah Bhamjee

In the Shadow of Humanity ponders the questions the ever-growing world of AI raises. What makes us human? Our physical bodies? Our emotions? Is it our ability to die or believe in God? What do our relationships mean to us? N. John Williams balances these introspective questions with the thrilling story of Nathaniel Lee. Nat is a Shade, a shadow made by grieving parents but now they’re dead and Nat is owned by his brother. Struggling to find his own feet, Nathaniel stumbles into something bigger than his personal freedom. Fans of AI, the metaverse, and classic science fiction will love In the Shadow of Humanity.

This novel had me questioning my own humanity and what we really mean by ‘human’. I pondered what I would do if I was in Jon’s position or in Nat’s position. Would I become like Sophia? I loved that In the Shadow of Humanity had me questioning various aspects of life but still kept me captivated by a thrilling tale. I simply could not put the book down. N. John Williams’ writing is scientific enough to be technical but not hard to follow, and definitely not dense. I love the technology because I could see it stem from what we have today. It is realistic and has the essence of science fiction. That does not mean it is not creative. The worlds, technology, and characters are all original, fresh, and wonderful to read about. The descriptions of the worlds are equally well-written, and beautiful without distracting from the story.