Edison in the Hood by Nadia Uddin
If you had the opportunity to ask the dearly departed questions, to retract those last words said in anger, to tell them you love them, would you? Can technology solve personal communication problems? Can it solve the social ills of the world? Those questions may seem unrelated, yet they are woven into one story, Nadia Uddin’s first published novel, Edison in the Hood (October 2020).
Uddin quite successfully makes the reader care about the siblings with her careful and empathetic prose.
The book opens in a future not too far from our own where technology is far more advanced. The reader first meets Aisha Malik at her mother’s deathbed. Standing over her dying parent, Aisha’s thoughts drift to her past, her hopes for the future, and why her brother Sam isn’t there with her. She also ponders her new job venture with leading artificial intelligence guru Jay Edison (refreshingly not a tropey evil genius?). Aisha is a fixer both professionally (as a PR wunderkind) and personally. With her mother’s death, she decides to fix her relationship with her brother and his relationship with their mother. The means to fix these, she believes, is found in a unique program which Aisha has access to thanks to her position with Edison.
Sam Malik is a genius in his own right, though he has never found the same professional success as his sister. At the start, he is toying with joining the Neo-Luddites, a group which believes technology has grown too prominent too quickly, while searching for meaning in his life. Thanks to Aisha, he meets Edison and takes the technology billionaire along with his sister on a trip to the Southside of Chicago (“the Hood”), changing several lives with that fateful visit.
This is not a hard science-fiction book, nor is it strictly a literary novel about relationships. It is both.
Edison in the Hood, in some ways, reads like a novel in two parts. Part 1 is a family trying to find “closure,” while Part 2 is more an examination of artificial intelligence and what technology can and/or should do. Can technology help against racial injustice? Poverty? Should humanity fuse with computers? Will a machine pass the so-called Turing Test and be able to think like a human? Should it?
Chapters are styled in the point of view of several different characters—mostly Aisha and Sam’s. Once the novel removes emphasis on the relationship between brother and sister, however, it loses a bit of the intimacy that initially so draws a reader in. More time could have been spent with Aisha and Sam since Uddin quite successfully makes the reader care about the siblings with her careful and empathetic prose.
This is not a hard science-fiction book, nor is it strictly a literary novel about relationships. It is both; somehow Uddin has combined the two in a way that works and is accessible to fans of both (and all) genres. This may not seem the book for a reader looking for, say, a quick beach-type read, but it could be since Uddin’s writing is so evocative. It will resonate with sci-fi fans and those who enjoy dissecting episodes of HBO’s Westworld. Edison in the Hood will make a reader think. Many books aren’t thought-provoking, Edison in the Hood is.