Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Thank you to the publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, who provided me a free copy through Netgalley for an honest review. Expiration Day is available now.

Here’s the description:

It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction….

 Tania Deeley has always been told that she’s a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society.

 Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania’s life are not real?

 Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted—never to be heard from again.

 Told in diary format, Expiration Day is the powerful and poignant story of a young girl coming of age and discovering what it means to be truly human by a talented debut novelist.

My review:

What I’d Pay: $12

This book took on a serious question, what it means to be human, from the accessible perspective of a young girl. It’s told in the form of her diary entries, which is a format I personally enjoy. While the action happens off the page, filtering it through the main character’s voice gave me much more insight into exactly what the character was thinking and feeling, something that became incredibly important in the context of the plot. There are breaks in the narrative in the form of short entries by a future being who is reading her diary and reflecting on her account. It’s interesting because, as the reader, you are not the only one reading her diary. I’ve never come across that in this type of novel and I thought it was very unique.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot without some major spoilers! But, I will try. For the most part, this is a slow-moving, coming-of-age story about a young girl going through her formative teen years. But it’s the constant, driving question of whether robots can be considered humans and the looming deadline when the robot-replacement children will be recycled, that moves the plot along. Despite the relatively slow pacing, there are some jumps forward in time and a few twists that really took me by surprise. The main character’s experiences and interactions with her family, friends, and the larger community reveal important information about the fascinating, futuristic setting of the book; but, I did want a little more detail on the history to flesh out the world-building. For instance, the cities are divided into colored zones indicating their level of safety, and while it’s clear that Red Zones are much more dangerous than Yellow Zones, there was never any explanation as to how they were established or what they really mean.  I understood enough to get through the story, but I would have liked more details about the world overall.

I noticed a few small inconsistencies in the story that bothered me, but nothing serious.  I think these mostly arose because the author was very cryptic at times. Sometimes, the narrator would refuse to give details about what was going on or would make speculations that weren’t obviously just speculation, and later on things would be mentioned that took me by surprise because they hadn’t been clear before. Overall, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story, but it was slightly distracting. I liked the main character for the most part, and the few instances when she was was slightly annoying and whiny can mostly be attributed to the fact that she was a growing teenager. Ultimately, I liked the story overall and loved the ending, which made the whole experience worth it.

Bottomline: This was a  futuristic, dystopian novel that addresses some serious questions about what it means to be human (vs. robot) and is also a coming-of-age novel. It is not a fast-paced, action-packed scifi story, but the character growth and great storytelling really make this a great scifi read. I was pleasantly surprised by the unique take on the classic theme of artificial intelligence and robots, and I would recommend this to anyone who appreciates a novel that takes time to develop characters with lots of emotion and asks thought-provoking questions.

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3 comments

  1. What was the reasoning behind recycling the 18-year-old teknoids? If they were created so that society didn’t collapse, isn’t getting rid of them rather counterproductive?

    When a book synopsis makes me scratch my head in confusion, I’m more likely to give it a pass…

  2. I can see what you mean, so let me give you some more context. The company that makes the robots basically rents them to childless couples for the period of 18 years, including body upgrades every couple years to simulate the robot growing up, and then the robot is returned at the end of that period, presumably to be recycled. Though it’s never explicitly stated, it’s clear that the crashing population had major impacts on the economy and infrastructure, and since it must be extremely costly in materials to make sophisticated robots, recycling robots makes practical sense. However, what actually happens to them after they are returned is a recurring question in the book because no one is 100% sure. Also, people are very uncomfortable acknowledging the children as robots because it shatters their illusion of having human children. This leads to prejudice an hostility against known robots and, because of that, most people in the book would find adult robots as part of the society unacceptable. Ultimately, the robot children are not meant to buoy the overall population numbers but really just to pacify the remaining humans’ parental instincts so that there are not huge riots in the streets as there were prior to the robots.

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