Flora died of neuroblastoma at the age of 15. Three years have passed. Her sisters, Isla now aged 13 and Una now aged ten, miss their deceased sister terribly, as do their parents. Their grief persists until they encounter Project Homecoming. This is a highly secret undertaking whereby a technological company promises to deliver what they term a returnee, someone who has died. The technologists gather a huge array of information about the deceased person from social media and from those who knew the subject best. Then they produce a robot which is as far as possible a faithful copy of the dear departed. There are some differences between the deceased person and the robot. The robot needs no sleep. And it cannot be fully immersed in water, disappointingly enough since Flora was a competitive swimmer. The family are warned that the project is deadly secret. If word gets out that a simulacrum of Flora has been delivered, it will instantly be confiscated.
The resurrection of the dead plays a significant part in the evolution of mythology and religion. This book deals with issues of grief, bereavement and renewed hope – all in the context of a science fiction setting. The book deals directly with a range of harrowing ideas basic to the nature of human life – so much so in fact that this reviewer felt at times obliged to take a break from reading. Outside the context of the astonishing technology – which succeeds in nearly but not quite mirroring the character of the deceased target – the relationship between Isla and Una is depicted with honesty and effect.
There is however a serious question the reader is obliged to ask, a question the author would do well to consider. Would this be a better book without the supposed technological miracle? In the real world after all the dead revisit us in memories and dreams. The powerful themes the book addresses would be even more powerful without the embellishment of a barely credible technological thread.