Book Review: Three Laws Lethal by David Walton
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Pyr (June 11, 2019)
Length: 392 pages
I’m a big fan of David Walton, having greatly enjoyed his books like Superposition and The Genius Plague, but Three Laws Lethal has elevated my admiration for his talents and storytelling skills to new heights. It never ceases to amaze me how he can run with an idea and turn it into an entertainingly wild and engaging techno-thriller, and yet still deliver a high level of realism with sympathetic, relatable characters to make the premise feel entirely and all too disconcertingly plausible.
Case in point, Three Laws Lethal is something of a cautionary tale against artificial intelligence, using the concept of autonomous self-driving vehicles as inspiration. That said, I doubt the concept of the AI entity in this story is anything like you’d imagine, as it’s pretty unusual. As well, this is a very human story, focusing on the lives of four friends who bonded over a love of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship while in college. Their dream was to start a taxi service company using a fleet of self-driving cars, and between them, they had the money, brains, and ambition to make it all happen.
But then everything changes following a horrific tragedy involving the death of one of their own. Devastated by the loss of his girlfriend Abby, the project leader, Brandon, blames his best friend and programmer Tyler for causing the fatal error that got her killed. Naomi, Abby’s sister, retreated into her own world and threw herself into her research. After graduation, the three went their separate ways, their dreams now in tatters. However, Brandon is not ready to give up. Full of rage and determination, he is a changed man as he uses his hefty inheritance to start a self-driving car business, just as he’d always wanted. After convincing Naomi to join him, they end up being extremely successful, all thanks to a cutting-edge prediction technology she has developed. But no one besides Naomi knows the secret behind the seemingly miraculous algorithm that allows their cars to know exactly where they need to be and when, and she hates to think about how her research could be abused should anyone find out. And when it all comes crashing down, her old friend Tyler is the only one who can help her.
For me, the most compelling sci-fi novels are the ones that can entertain me and teach me something new at the same time. This describes all of Walton’s books. The man clearly puts in a ton of time and effort into research, and readers are rewarded with an experience that is both fun and educational. As you can probably tell from its title, Three Laws Lethal is inspired by Isaac Asimov, and his Three Laws of Robotics are given a modern twist using the idea of self-driving cars. With the number of people concerned about the advent of autonomous vehicles, as well as recent headlines about the threat of hacking or the intricate moral dilemmas involved in AI decision making, a book like this couldn’t be any more relevant. Walton explores these issues from multiple vantage points yet manages to keep the narrative smooth and fast-paced without bogging it down with complicated and lengthy explanations.
And rare for me when it comes to hard sci-fi novels, it was the characters I really enjoyed. Granted, we’re not talking about in depth personality studies here, and Walton has a tendency to gloss over important events in the characters’ lives and not dwell too long on emotions. To his credit, he knows what kind of story he wants to tell, and his no-nonsense writing style is well-suited to the techno-thriller genre. It also didn’t hurt my enjoyment at all, as I found the dynamics between Brandon, Tyler, and Naomi to be utterly fascinating. Brandon is a terrifying psychopath because of how convincing his motivations were despite his delusions of grandeur. His rivalry with Tyler was the stuff of legendary corporate politics. But I especially loved Naomi, who is so brilliant and adorkable and just plain awesome.
Above all, reading Three Laws Lethal simply gave me a deep sense of satisfaction. I love sci-fi novels that are exciting and smart. I also love being surprised. There are twists aplenty in the plot, several that had me gaping in shock. It kept me turning the pages, eager to find out what would happen next. It’s an energetic, non-stop thrill ride from start to finish.
In sum, I highly recommend Three Laws Lethal if you’re a sci-fi fan, especially if you’re keen on interesting and even weird perspectives on artificial intelligence. Even if you’re not big on the genre I think you’ll find this novel surprisingly accessible and easy to get into. Finding true gems like this is what I love about being a book reviewer, and David Walton has now earned his place on my list of must-read authors.