A Russian scientist with a PhD from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, a widely recognized leader in the field of artificial intelligence, an entrepreneur in high-tech development, Vadim Babenko closed the door on his past achievements to fulfill his desire to write. We his readers are in his debt.
In Semmant (not his first novel), Babenko has created a fascinating story, peopled with unbelievable characters in whom we believe nonetheless. He introduces emotions where we would not expect to find them, and keeps us rapidly turning the pages to learn the fate of his protagonist, a genius in cybernetics named Bogdan Bogdanov, who creates a “gift for the world” named Semmant.
This literary work of fiction, which defiantly transcends the ordinary scheme of genres, begins in Bogdan’s white-walled room in an elite mental institution near Madrid, where he is erotically contemplating the sexual merits of his various nurses and pondering his chances of enticing one or another of them into his bed. As the sun sets behind the jagged mountain peaks that comprise the view from his window, and the institutionalized genius awaits a gourmet dinner accompanied by an expensive French wine, he begins composing his evening letter to Semmant—his friend, whom he can never desert.
Bogdan’s thoughts laze across the course of his life since the discovery of his phenomenal giftedness in mathematical calculation—an Indigo child, they had called him. While this afforded him an excellent education, he remained a misfit in society, seldom forging friendships, including with women.
Finally stumbling into the field of artificial intelligence, Bogdan glimpses a path for his future. As a means to an income, he has always earned more than his share in the stock market. What if he applied artificial intelligence to the task? Yes! He acquires state-of-the-art knowledge in the field and leaves yet another job—this time for entrepreneurship.
Bogdan decides on Madrid as his new home, finds an apartment, and begins the creation of a robot in a computer. He expends much money and many months in meticulously programming the robot to successfully challenge the financial markets of the world. Finally his work is done. Not surprisingly, a relationship of sorts has emerged between Bogdan and his creation. He affectionately names it Semmant and sometimes whimsically sends him messages, as to a friend. Semmant, housed in his gleaming computer, learns to respond in kind—in almost human terms.
As Semmant settles in to work, and money pours into the trading account, Bogdan goes out to play, to enjoy the amusements and the women of Madrid. Unfortunately, his success with Semmant has not spilled over to his savoir faire. Though his money attracts, Bogdan cannot understand (and certainly cannot program!) women, especially the intriguingly erotic, violently emotional, red-haired Lidia Alvares Alvares. Their initial passionate love affair gives way to an undulating path of hot and cold, which pushes Bogdan to create another colorful character, this time pseudonymously on the e-pages of a literary forum. The exploits of a high-class prostitute named Adele titillate the forum members, including an unwitting Lidia. As her character develops, Adele is lent a resemblance to Cervantes’ Dulcinea in attracting a knight in shining armor.
Babenko brings his compelling story to an emotionally charged and thought-provoking conclusion—one this reviewer will likely not forget.
Editor’s Note: This is this is one of the best books that I have recently read. I loved the writing and the complexity of the story along with the many subtle philosophical questions and dilemmas that it presents. Semmant is Babenko’s third novel. His first two, The Black Pelican and A Simple Soul, were both nominated for the Russian National Bestseller Awards and the Big Book Awards (the Russian equivalent of the Booker Awards), Russia’s most prestigious literary awards.