The Kraken Project (Wyman Ford)
by Douglas Preston
Cover Artist: Getty Images
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317698
Date: 13 May 2014 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
The Kraken Project begins in a NASA test facility. A spacecraft has been developed to go to Titan, a moon of Saturn, and explore the Kraken Mare, or Kraken Sea. The environment on Titan is hostile with freezing temperatures. Due to the distance from Earth, electronic data takes two hours to travel, so the spacecraft has to be able to react and handle emergencies on its own.
Melissa Shepherd is the programmer who develops the Artificial Intelligence (AI) program using an ingenious new programming method. Melissa named the program Dorothy, after Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. The program needs to be able to think on its own. It is not the same way humans think, but Dorothy has to react to situations and recover since data transmission from Earth will not reach Titan in time to correct a problem. Dorothy is also able to self-modify and learn from her mistakes.
This all sounds great, but the test is a disaster--literally. The spacecraft is in a giant tank that simulates the conditions on Titan. Temperatures are nearly 300 degrees below zero and the tank is partly filled with a mixture of liquid methane and other hydrocarbons to simulate Kraken Mare. Unfortunately, since Dorothy is programmed to act on its own, the AI believes the tank walls are hostile and confining and uses the spacecraft's installed drill equipment to drill its way out of the tank. This causes a major explosion, kills multiple people and since the program is autonomous, Dorothy escapes through the Internet connection and is roaming the Internet. At this point Melissa realizes that her AI is so good that it is too good. Her efforts to make Dorothy think on her own worked too well.
I laud the author that Dorothy is both a hero and a villain. At first Dorothy shows up on Melissa's personal computer and threatens to kill Melissa, causing Melissa to retreat to the mountains of Colorado where she spent time as a teenager. The U.S. President brings in Wyman Ford to go find Melissa, and ultimately find Dorothy.
Ford, Douglas Preston's recurring character, is a former CIA operative who runs around the world doing special projects for the U.S. government. Ford is able to convince Melissa to come back on the grid (both literally and figuratively), find Dorothy and prevent the AI from destroying the world. It is great suspense and lots of fun.
The human villains in the novel are G. Parker Lansing and his computer-hacker partner Eric Moro. They are stock brokers from Wall Street who use questionable, yet legal, computer trading methods to amass their fortunes. They are out of find Dorothy too and want to use the AI's computing ability to further advance their trading schemes.
Douglas Preston writes suspense very well. The suspense leading to the explosion at NASA is excellent, and future suspense scenes are excellent too. My problem develops when Ford, Melissa, and other characters keep debating whether or not Dorothy has consciousness like a human. Dorothy's humanness is a big part of the novel. I say emphatically, NO. She's a computer program, not a person. I understand that AI is a big field of study and debate in modern society, and it is great that Preston debates it, but I prefer human villains.
Overall, I loved The Kraken Project and I highly recommend it. I love Wyman Ford and I canít wait to read his adventures in future stories.