Man vs Machine vs Bhudda
A review of ‘Dictated by a Human, Written by a PC’ by Omar Gunnoo (Dyslexic Association of London)
Olympia Publishers (www.olympiapublishers.com) Print ISBN: 978-1-84897-998-7 Digital ISBN: 1848979983 Publication Date: 25th January, 2018
Dictated by a Human, Written by a PC is a novel by first-time author Stephen Voller. As the title suggests, this story explores the flaws of 'humans' in their capacity to provide leadership.
In the preface of the book, Stephen writes that he is dyslexic and that writing this book is a personal triumph for him. This certainly sets an intriguing tone for what is to come. Though the writing itself present at a somewhat novice level, the story itself contains an unexpected depth. This whirlwind galactic adventure will bend more than just space and time, but your mind too.
Enter Peter Wong, the protagonist for the story. He is a journeyman with a colorful background. His decisions are guided by his experience of being a former soldier in the British Army, a student of martial arts and a practicing Buddhist. He has a strong sense of fairness which stems mainly from his life struggles, particularly around having dyslexia. However, inadvertently such a path has given Peter the opportunity to be exposed to a wide array of other experiences that have 'life education'. For example, through his travels, he has developed an affinity for south-east Asian people, culture and religion. Peter’s dyslexia s is a cognitive strength of his where he can apply a multi-perspective approach problem solving. It has also given him a mental toughness which he has drawn upon whether fighting the battles of keeping his family, or keep a Muay Thai fighter at bay.
Mr Wee is the only other significant character. He is the central ‘ruler’ of the planetary system, Peter finds himself in. The rest of the population is based upon a class system; ‘mother-borns’ who are the elite ‘natural born’ people and the clones, who are basically slaves to the mother-borns. Peter has the aid of a hand Robot Number 4, who acts as a conduit for information.
In the beginning of book, Peter is participating in a Tai Chi competition. Although being 59 years of age, Peter relishes his 'underdog' status and as always, he is determined to do his best. After a fatal motor accident, Peter finds himself waking aboard an unknown ship, in an unknown time in an unknown universe. He quickly learns that his old-self is dead and that the memories of his old-self has been transplanted to his now clone body that is 25 years old and a perfect fighting specimen. In addition, his dyslexia has been 'engineered' out of him. His role now is to battle in tournaments which the government use as a way to settle disputes between planets. Peter has no choice or will die.
This stark contrast between the two 'Peter's shapes the intentions of the book. Firstly, to demonstrate Peter's ability to achieve extraordinary things despite his obvious limitations. However, despite being gifted with the perfect mind and body, it has been at the sacrifice of his freedom. Stephen has skillfully been empathically related Peter's own struggles in life with the oppression of the clones.
The book is written in a third person point of view from the perspective of Peter as he narrates his own views on subject matter. In relation to the writing itself; there appears to be an overall weak control on language which can at times disturb the flow of the book. However, despite saying so, the story still moves at a fast pace with its exciting fight scenes. Nonetheless, there is a do-or-die ‘mission' for Peter to complete and I found myself gripped to the very end to see what happens.
Throughout the book, Peter is constantly thinking. This serves him well when it comes to combat as he cunningly applies elements of military expertise, international fighting styles and street smarts. I love on page 46 when Peter uses a can of Coca Cola to defeat his foes. However, when it came to the larger issues such as freeing himself and the slave, Peter came across as perhaps overthinking. It gave the impressions he was not totally convinced in himself not his plan. He was often left in moral conundrums around who he is and what right does he must enact freedom for these slaves. On page 47 he sums up the situation so aptly with the thought-provoking line, ““I wonder if I can gain enlightenment if I am a clone”. This begs the question for Peter, is he a man or not and any case, does he still have the right to play god.
The writer tries to balance the arguments by drawing other spiritual beliefs, religions and even throws in politics. Although perhaps with the intention of trying for a more holistic approach to decisions, without the same expressed knowledge on these other areas as say with Buddhism, the writer runs the risk of weakening the arguments.
Peter’s constant mind rambling does lend to allot of funny moments and his self-depreciation is endearing. On page 122, It was a candid moment when preparing for another life or death battle, Peter shows empathy for his ‘mother-born’ opponents who are only participating for the sheer stimulation otherwise they may as well “watch the paint dry”. I was touched when on Page 128, Peter so explains his life as just an ongoing fight, from fighting bullies at school to his constant fight with dyslexia.
Essentially Peter is the only character in the book with the rest acting as support or matter-of-fact hurdles for his overall goal of freeing the slaves. The books run through events, which help Peter to come to his overall strategy to do so. There is little in way of interaction with other characters in the book. There were moments that landed itself to emotional expansion like on page 40, when Peters eyes land on an attractive clone but must resist any temptation, “He knows this female is only five days old even though she looks twenty-two”. These moments were a little too contained. I thought that with greater differentiated opinions and more emotional content, there would have been more contrast in the story and effective enhance Peter’s final decisions.
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed being on this adventure, I was left feeling slightly unfulfilled. Whilst it is more than evident that Peter is equipped to tackle an intergalactic government, somehow, I was still left unsure where Peter fitted into all of this. That is, what did he achieve for himself and what did he achieve for the clones? The question is left open and I am unsure if Peter is a hero, martyr or any of these.
Peter never finds out how he won that competition that started of his adventure. Later, whilst completing a tournament he manages to attain perfect scores. As the reader, I can say Stephen should be proud of writing this book. Though it may not be perfect it is certainly a winner. I need some sort of closure. I have many questions to ask. What I can say that this book is leaning towards a sequel and I am already wondering if Peter will next find that rogue Arab Nation that decided to go their own way in the universe. I hope Stephen doesn’t think too long on this one.