Semmant by Vadim Babenko (book review).

Written in a very direct and intriguing style, ‘Semmant’ creates interest from the very first page. Originally written in Russian, it’s obviously a translation and, as such, it’s impossible to determine how good a translation it actually is with absolutely no knowledge of its roots. However, it does read well and the English version certainly stands out on its own. I’ve never heard of Babenko or the publisher, Ergoum, the latter offering only his works for sale, but according to the information he has written several other books and is apparently quite successful. It can be purchased from Amazon, in various formats, at prices which are quite reasonable.


The main character, Bogdan Bogdanov, who is a cybernetics genius, creates a brain within a computer. Bogdanov is a mentally troubled genius, it must be said, and the main interest in this piece of fiction which is a cross between Science Fiction and romance is the interaction between the unstable human and the logical Semmant. One of the first tasks given to the artificial brain is to make a fortune from the stock exchange, no easy task for anybody and, at first, he seems to have a little trouble. The stock exchange is a bit like God and the universe. Theological arguments suggest that if God is outside of time and space, then influencing the universe can be a bit difficult. However, once inside time and space, he becomes a part of the universe itself and consequently any action taken within it automatically affects himself. It’s a bit like Bertrand Russell’s set theory about an index of a catalogue being a part of the catalogue! Semmant at first only tentatively goes into the stock exchange but once he knows what it’s about, closes in with more determination. He then becomes a part of the amorphous blob which is the stock exchange.

There are lots of philosophical discussion points within the book. The writing is rather exciting at times and it’s always interesting, such is the author’s ability to tell a story and it never seems to stand still. It’s not long before love appears, for Bogdanov in the form of Lidia, a woman who inexorably attracts him to an enigmatic paradox from which there seems to be no escape. Semmant is affected by this relationship, also entering the illogical world of love, leaving behind the logical world of computer science. This then becomes a journey that human and machine must follow and it’s one which humanity combined with its electronic devices will one day have to follow in the future. In writing this book, Babenko foresees the future! The future is not a tomorrow’s world view of technology with machines and devices, rather it’s a symbiotic combination between human and machine because both live off each other and eventually become interdependent.

Apart from the subject, I was trying to work out what the book was about. It seems to me that it’s a description of the human brain which, as the general opinion suggests, is divided into two hemispheres, the left being logical and the right being emotional. Semmant does not have the same physical make-up of neurons and does not benefit from eons of evolution but having been made by a human, it does share some of humanity’s characteristics. Semmant cannot possibly be an alien creature because its roots are human. That’s something we must take into the debate when considering the machines that will one day spawn from our existence.

Writing is erotically charged and the woman, the object of lust and desire, seems to outwit the intelligence that wants to make her its own. Everything happens, including death and betrayal and, from a position of stability and reason, the illogical path of love throws them into chaos. Yes, having made a fortune from the stock exchange, no easy task, they become unstuck by a woman. The image of Lidia is something they can’t touch because if they did, it would disappear. It’s not simply illusive, it’s impossible!

This is a damned good book. There is no other way to put it. It would now be interesting to delve into the author’s other novels and if they are as half as good as this, I won’t be disappointed. Truth be said, I’d never heard of Babenko before encountering ‘Semmant’. I know some of the ideas are not new because Science Fiction abounds with creators creating machines and brains but Babenko has added many more dimensions to the story and made us think about ourselves and the future in a way that we’ve either forgotten or pushed aside because of sheer terror. It’s one to be recommended!

translated from Russian by Christopher Lovelace & Vadim Babenko

(pub: ErgoSum Publishing. 304 pages. Price: e-book: $ 4.27 (US), hardcover: $24.99 (US), paperback: $16.99 (US)

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