'The Tools We Make End Up Shaping Us'

"We perceive the world not as it is, but as it is useful to us," neuroscientist Anil Seth observes in Being You: A New Science of Consciousness (Dutton, $28). I kept thinking about this as my recent reading seemed to focus on aspects of consciousness. I'm not really looking for answers, just enjoying a stroll along the border between science and creative speculation.

When the Sparrow Falls (Tor Books, $26.99) by Neil Sharpson is a compelling, futuristic novel featuring Nikolai Andreivich South, a disaffected state security agent for the last human-ruled country (the dysfunctional Caspian Republic) in an AI-dominated world. He must unravel an intricate, sometimes deeply personal mystery that includes, among many complexities, the crime (or is it?) of contran, "as we called it, an ugly contraction of the even uglier 'Consciousness Transferal,' and there were procedures to be followed."

Un-su Kim's novel The Cabinet, translated by Sean Lin Halbert (Angry Robot, $14.99), which explores hidden often surreal depths of human consciousness (and sub-consciousness), offered me this: "Those who argue for the sanctity of humanity express grave concern over the fusion of man and machine.... If people like this exist around you, I hope you tell them that the time for such things has yet to come. We still have a long time before we connect human brains to computers. After all, we still don't even fully understand how migraines are caused."

Levels of consciousness are always in play when human vulnerability collides with the Internet's tangled web. Olivia Sudjic's novel Sympathy (Mariner Books, $14.99) follows Alice Hare down a social media rabbit hole as we observe a version of her consciousness seeking to meld her real and virtual life with that of her idol, Mizuko.

In an interview with Vice, Sudjic said: "I feel like there are these age-old human frailties that technology can take advantage of. The point is that, throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us." Anil Seth might agree. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

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