“Motives are a hard thing to pin down – especially when you’re talking about a mentally- deranged robot.”

I wanted to post this a week ago so you could stick this book on your Christmas list. My apologies – but you could always treat yourself to Steven James new thriller, Synapse, for an end-of-year treat.

I’ve never heard of Steven James before, which means I now have a list of books I want to read in 2020 to catch up. And I do intend to hunt down those previous novels – I was that impressed with Synapse. Though I have no idea when I will get to read them, time seeming to always be at a premium.


This is a scary novel in many ways, set in a future that is almost now. I can easily imagine this time, thirty years in the future, with technology that is a logical extension of where we are now.  We can see the signs already, with self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and medical technology advances that in some ways blur the lines between human and artificial.

Kestrel Hathaway is a pastor and mother caught up in a terrorist web. She’s doubting God, not a great thing for someone in her profession, and attracted to the police officer investigating the bombing she witnessed, a bombing made possible by technological advances that were supposed to be helpful, not harmful.

How safe is a self-driving car? Can a machine praise God? When does intelligence stop being artificial and start being real? Is that even possible?

Steven James has accomplished a difficult task with Synapse: He has crafted a novel that is extremely entertaining and at the same time thought-provoking.

There are ethical considerations in recent (and expected) scientific advances that our society perhaps hasn’t taken the time to consider. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece on self-driving cars, which somehow I have never gotten around to posting. James has added to my list of concerns.

You could say that this novel is not so much about technology as it is about asking what it means to be human. We flesh and blood types tend to take that for granted, but with recent advances in artificial intelligence and the way the field is growing and improving, perhaps it is a topic that will become more and more a matter for public debate.

I missed it when it happened, but in 2017 Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot, effectively giving a machine more rights than Saudi women. What will happen when my self-driving car decides it deserves the vote? (Synapse doesn’t go that route – but it could have.) I know Canadian lawmakers haven’t thought of that one yet.

There is terrorism and murder, coupled with loss and longing as Kestrel Hathaway tries to figure out life in Synapse. James has created a believable heroine whose struggles and triumphs are plausible. There are ethical loose ends, questions of faith left unanswered and stories not told – just like in real life.

I usually save thriller for summertime, as I find they make great beach reads. I’m glad I didn’t wait until then to read Synapse – and I may take it to the beach in August to read a second time.

(If you’re like me and live nowhere near a bookstore, you may want to check out Searchlight Books. I picked up my copy of Synapse when I was in their area, but they do ship to wherever you are.) 

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