In societies’ where wealth and high-tech abide no limits, it’s not too hard to imagine a day when indulgent, but very well-intended parents can purchase an Android —an AF, Artificial Friend—to serve as their lonely child’s devoted playmate. (Something akin to a mechanized, loyal “familiar” literally standing by to support and affirm a child 24/7. )
In “Klara and the Sun” author Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf 2021) induces us to suspend disbelief to ponder the ramifications of such a scenario on his character Josie—a young, likable ill child. Better yet, he asks us to ponder AF Klara’s perspective, too.
We are first introduced to android AF Klara as she is marketed in downtown storefronts to parents and children alike. Which AF looks best to you? Josie’s mom takes the bait.
After purchase, Josie’s mother introduces Klara as merely a new member of the family. Not everyone buys into that concept, especially Dad. That creates a snag. (Of course it does!)
Josie is ill. Her parents already lost one child to death. Josie’s mother, in particular, is hyper-protective and lives on tender-hooks worrying she’ll lose her Josie, too.
And so, against Josie’s father’s wishes, Mom schemes up a scenario for Klara and Josie that’s dystopian at best, and diabolical at worst.
A fine morality tale takes root. How is “existence” defined? Which types of existence rank higher than others? When is it acceptable for one parent’s decision to outrank the other? Does a child get a say in her own fate, does an AF? Juicy ethical dilemmas abound!
I believe at the crux is the author’s examination of humans’ excessive anxiety and outright fear of loss —especially loss of attachment. How far will a terrified parent go to preserve a child’s identity? Are there any boundaries a parent won’t cross to secure a destiny they feel their child deserves, that they as parent deserves?
And ultimately, who are we—as a society—to judge the ethics of a parent’s choice. And most haunting, does the entrepreneurial marketplace
have no limits (no shame!) when capitalizing on parents’ most primal emotions and far-fetched desires. Just how much are humans willing to tinker with facts of attachment in this fleshy life?
“Klara and the Sun” doesn’t give a lot of answers, but it sure posits lots of questions. Do we dare answer them?
Post Script: Where does the Sun come in? AF Klara is solar-powered and conceives the Sun as an ever-benevolent entity to whom she can appeal on Josie’s. We all need our Gods, even AFs.