Originally posted on Goodreads.com.
“The arithmetic of suffering was not an easy matter to resolve.”
Replika: Sky’s Mission by Hugo Bernard is a post-apocalyptic SF novel centered on one alternative: will characters remain in their current life and try to improve (or merely endure) it, or will they enter Replika, a worldwide simulation that was balanced long ago with just the right parameters to mimic human existence while making it more bearable? With a tight cast of characters—who at times double due to their having separate existences inside and outside of the simulation—a great balance of action, drama, and philosophy, and excellent narration, Bernard’s book is an outstanding contribution to the SF genre.
Replika: Sky’s Mission is primarily a story about parents and children. The drama between the younger characters, foremost of whom is mid-20s Sky, and the older, wiser scientists Omar and Sky’s mother, Vi, comprises much of the book’s tension, with the latter contrasting Sky’s reactionary opposition to technology with their own ambivalent nuance. Having lived their lives around and in some initially unclear ways contributed to Replika, Omar and Vi have learned the boons and threats of tech and human nature, and they’ve learned what science can and cannot do—hopefully not too late. This leads to the book’s central conflict (and the upcoming trilogy at large): the attempt to send Sky into Replika to somehow contact her brother, Hugo, and attempt to bring down the whole simulation.
Furthermore, the book’s deuteragonist, Morgan, whose connection to the others is initially unclear, must himself choose between the future he wants with his reporter girlfriend Aviva and his obligations to his bedridden mother. This choice becomes paramount when a terrorist attack on Paris causes France—and Aviva reporting there—to go silent. Like many intergenerational stories, both Sky’s and Morgan’s conflicts involve themes of duty, unfulfilled expectations, and resentment between parents and kids. The questions regarding what the parent generation is obligated to leave the next is made more complex by Replika—and its paired promise of bliss and dereliction of life in the real world—being part of the equation.
Besides being a good story, Replika: Sky’s Mission is very well-written. The first aspect of Replika that stood out to me was its worldbuilding. Set long after a climate-related but generally undefined apocalypse, the world outside Replika is filled with ruined buildings, overgrown forests, migratory sand dunes, and suspect water sources, the descriptions of which are always given in relation to the humans (and psychology thereof) that have somehow survived.
Furthermore, rather than use the story’s premise as an excuse to describe fantastic worlds, as other simulation-based books do (to be sure, Bernard does this, though not gratuitously), the author keeps a solid focus on those outside of Replika. This creates a salutary suspense about what Sky’s experience will actually be like once she enters Replika, where all her memories will be removed when she will be given a new life.
When the story actually does enter Replika, the transition is so subtle that one learns the story has already described several scenes from within the simulation. The blurring of the lines between inside and outside of the simulation mimics well the experience of the characters, and it added an unsettling but not unpleasant depth to the plot. I don’t know if Bernard had Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation or his critique of The Matrix movies in mind (I, myself, only know of either through hearsay and summaries), but Replika: Sky’s Mission reminded me of what I know of Baudrillard’s work (I’ll refrain from elaborating to avoid spoilers, but iykyk).
More technically, too, Replika holds up. The close-third-person narrator rarely, if ever, intrudes in the explanations of characters and their motives, and it offers a good amount of humor and irony, depending on the character. Furthermore—and one of my favorite aspects of the book—the flow and phrasing of the prose was both varied and well-paced. Bernard’s choice of analogies is also excellent, with his unstrained metaphors rarely, if ever, feeling like narrative intrusion.
Though Replika: Sky’s Mission is first in a trilogy, the tension of its conflict is resolved without the book’s feeling unfinished, and there are several threads and hints to be taken up in the sequel. For now, I’ll recommend the first installment to fans of simulation-based SF, and I plan to read (and hopefully review) the second as soon as it’s available.