W. L. Patenaude’s suspenseful and philosophical novel, A Printer’s Choice, opens in the near future, 2088, and not all is well in the universe.
Earth is plagued with famine, war, and violent religious extremism. Oceans have risen to deadly levels, and wildfires and storms continue unabated. The world’s resources are being strained and no recovery is in sight. In fact, things are so dire that parents can opt to have themselves euthanized in exchange for the government’s providing for their children’s health and education.
Elsewhere in the cosmos, a murder has rocked “upside,” a conglomeration of locales in space that are being rapidly developed through a tense and volatile collaboration between engineers and builders. This murder is a first in the “New World” and the circumstances surrounding it set the stage for an investigation that will not only uncover the murderer but also will cause readers to ponder the very essence of human existence.
Enter Father John Francis McClellan, a Roman Catholic priest in this thirties with a military background. He has been summoned by the Archbishop of Boston and the Vatican to travel to the New World to investigate the homicide. From the outset, the case presents enigmatic details. For example, the victim, Father Tanglao, a Dominican priest, had inexplicably been working as a laborer in the orbits.
Like everyone else, Father McClellan wonders why a priest was upside where any expression of any faith is strictly prohibited. Was Father Tanglao’s murder connected to one of the engineers or a fellow builder? Could there be a connection to the murderous zealot with a messianic complex, Juan Carlos Solorzano?
McClellan does know that Father Tanglao had dealings with a high-tech 3D printer, a machine with recesses of “Deep Intellect.” McClellan has his own history with these sentient machines, encounters that have given him the experience necessary to delve into relations between people and devices possessing artificial intelligence.
The printers have the ability to design their own upgrades as well as reproduce themselves. “New Athens” was built easily and rapidly by the printers and, given the disasters on Earth, there is an imminent need for worlds to be built in space as quickly as possible.
The engineers argue that the checks and balances those in charge wish to implement will only hold progress back because they believe they can regain control over the machines down the road. The question will arise, what separates a human programmer from a mechanical one capable of critical thinking? And who “programmed” people? What transpires between McClellan and a specific machine includes a riveting and deeply thought-provoking discussion of trust and free will.
Clearly, Patenaude is well versed in the readings of Aristotle, St. Thomas, St. Augustine, and Descartes, for starters, and likely a host of philosophers and theologians. His ability to draw upon multiple disciplines and to weave religious and philosophical allegories into characterization and plot put him at the forefront of literary thinkers. Suffice to say, this novel is profoundly deep and thought-provoking.
While this book will appeal to sci-fi lovers and anyone game for a murder mystery in outer space, it should also spark the interest of anyone interested in grappling with theories of existence and the ultimate power of free will. A priest traveling to an entirely new world in the cosmos and finding that it’s still necessary to wrestle with the age-old questions of faith make for a powerful tale.