“The Body Electric” Review


This is a portion of my full review at Trek.fm

“I have a plan,” Wesley said, “But for it to work, you’ll have to be impossibly charming.” Picard couldn’t help but smile. “When am I not?”


If Star Trek has taught us anything it is this: All good things must come to an end. David Mack’s grand new trilogy has come to its conclusion. As with his last trilogy, this one changes the universe of Star Trek forever. What is different about this series is that while the changes are massive, it also feels more intimate. All of the best stories in the Trek universe are not just about action; they are stories that challenge us philosophically and mentally. This last book in the Cold Equations series does not disappoint in this respect. The questions raised are the biggest that humanity can ask, making this a satisfying and provocative finale.


One of the paramount questions of Mack’s latest series has been that of life and what constitutes true existence. The Body Electric, like V’ger before it, does not consider organic life to be valid. It may have been the creator of true life, but it is not true existence. Its argument against organic life is the following:

 “Organic life relies on inefficient and imperfect means of information transformation from one generation to the next. Information shared between organic life-forms are not true life-forms is subjected to corruption, misinterpretation, and loss. Organic life-forms are not true life-forms because they are incapable of propagating their information with full fidelity. While they are capable of uploading information for the construct of new biological containers using genetic information, they can impart the data stored in those containers only by indirect means. Organic evolution is an incomplete and flawed process that yields incomplete and flawed creations.”
The difference here is culture vs. biology; for humans, information is collected and used to create our culture; the biology of artificial intelligence (AI) is information itself. The difference comes down to what is valued by the different creations because of their make-up.
The question about what constitutes a true life-form is still puzzling. The Body Electric does not seem capable of compassion or mercy — traits that sentient organic life holds very close. Also in question is whether or not AI has a soul. AI has sentience and is self determined, yet still lacks the intrinsic quality to jump a step beyond information to philosophy, religion, compassion and the synthesis of information into culture. The idea of a any kind of afterlife is also foreign. When a machine powers down or is destroyed, there is nothing left. However, even in the Star Trekuniverse, forms of being do exist beyond the physical realm for organic life. We have seen the evidence of this from many different cultures, including Klingons and Bajorans. The answer to this major question cannot be fully answered here, but wrestling with it is important because it is part of the foundation of existence. Review continues here.



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