Three Questions in the Ethereal

Fiction - Historical - Personage
263 Pages
Reviewed on 01/11/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Three Questions in the Ethereal is a work of fiction penned by author Barry Robbins in the historical, cultural, abstract, and inspirational writing subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience. Readers are invited to share in a unique and enchanting journey into a magical place beyond time and space known as the Ethereal Bar. In this extraordinary setting, icons from history, pop culture, and fiction converge to share their stories. The Interviewer, a guiding character, engages with figures like Elvis Presley, Leo Tolstoy, and even Count Dracula, revealing diverse and profound dialogues. The book defies conventional narrative structures, inviting readers to explore the wisdom of philosophers, the cunning of rulers, the passion of artists, and the courage of unsung heroes through a naturally conversational style.

Author Barry Robbins really knows how to craft an engaging read, and this fascinating collection of moments treads the line between fiction and creative non-fiction so well that history and imagination blur very convincingly into one. What makes this book particularly intriguing is its collaborative genesis, with the author acknowledging the role of OpenAI's language model, GPT-4, as a creative partner. The blend of computational creativity and human imagination results in a narrative that is not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. It’s clear that Robbins takes the clay that AI gives him and molds it into sculptures of his own rather than letting it hit the page verbatim. Stepping into the Ethereal Bar is like stepping into a realm where the boundaries between past and present dissolve, and the voices of history echo in tones both familiar and enlightening, with strong narrative skills and highly creative setups. Overall, I would certainly recommend Three Questions in the Ethereal as a magnificent escapist read for fans of history, culture, and groundbreaking new fiction forms alike.

Joe Wisinski

In Three Questions in the Ethereal by Barry Robbins, an interviewer questions some of the most well-known people in history in a bar called the Ethereal Bar. These people come from many fields, including politicians, fictional figures, entertainers/artists, and others. Some of the figures are heroic, such as Winston Churchill, and some are evil, such as Stalin. The interviewer asks each person three questions; the first two questions are always serious and the third may be more whimsical. Some of the questions are deeply penetrating and insightful; others are light and even humorous. Most chapters are about one of these figures in the Ethereal Bar, but in between are chapters that explain more about the bar and its occupants. Sometimes the historical figures ask the interviewer questions. The author acknowledges the use of artificial intelligence as an aid in writing the book.

The writing of Three Questions in the Ethereal is a stroke of genius. Anyone interested in one or more of the fields that the historical or fictional figures come from has no doubt wondered about the thought processes of those people. This book provides the answers. Author Barry Robbins skillfully used artificial intelligence to give his readers insight into the thinking of those being interviewed, and using the Q&A format was the perfect way of making the book both fascinating and insightful. Another astute idea on Robbins’ part was to use the setting of a bar for the interviews. That setting makes sense because it provides a relaxed atmosphere where the interviewees are likely to be open in their responses. Readers may not always like the answers from the historical figures, but that’s part of the attraction of this book—getting an accurate assessment of their thinking. I’m happy to recommend this book to anyone interested in historical or fictional characters who have impacted our world.

Asher Syed

Three Questions in the Ethereal by Barry Robbins and ChatGPT is a string of interviews wrapped up in a story taking place in the weird but totally wonderful Ethereal Bar. Ethereal plays host to a massive assortment of figures, including, but certainly not limited to, recognizable folks like Churchill, Buddha, Elvis, Charles Darwin, Mick Jagger, and Napoleon. In a nod to Robbins's disclaimer of AI writing assistance, the Ethereal welcomes Tim Berners-Lee, who talks through things like the web's inception and AI ethics. Not all guests are real people, with The Phantom of the Opera showing up and dishing up metaphors about the masks worn in life. However, it is the Ethereal's own interview that shows readers its purpose of sharing the wisdom of empathy and experiences. At the end, we meet memoirist John, who chats about time, timelessness, and humanity's stories. Throughout, Robbins drops in little nuggets of backstory, insight into the bar, and the behind-the-scenes work of its “Council of Elders.”

Three Questions in the Ethereal is the third book I have read by Barry Robbins and the second I have read in his Icons series. Where his book Icons in the Oval is a little more tongue-in-cheek, Three Questions in the Ethereal is more serious in the topics it discusses. There is a story that operates in the background about how the bar is able to get people like Che Guevara to walk through its revolving door, and to me, the 'how this all works and why we do it' bits were the best part. Out of all the famous and infamous patrons who visited to gab with all those lucky enough to be there—and, of course, us fly-on-the-wall readers—was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The writing itself is well done, and there's no question that the brainpower behind the story is Robbins, as AI can only do so much. Robbins is skilled at making sure his own voice stands out, and there's definitely enough individuality given to the characters so that each sounds unique and authentic. Overall, this is a thoughtful work with a hearty blend of fact, fiction, and some great messaging. Recommended.