In many ways, these books are disturbing reads, and for that reason, I would not recommend them for most people. However, I find them worth commenting about because they tackle with death, artificial intelligence, God, and human brokenness; Shusterman has found a way to create a fascinating framework from which to wrestle with these subjects.
Despite the brutality, or maybe because of it, Shusterman has built a world in which we can observe, especially in the 2nd book- Thunderhead – how an almost omnipresent, almost omniscient, and almost omnipotent power sees humanity, and the ever difficult question of how such a power could let evil happen. From an apologetics perspective, it’s valuable to see how Shusterman gives dilemmas to his almost perfect and benevolent artificial intelligence.
Shusterman uses many contrasts between good and evil, and he goes through much effort to show that what’s on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect what on the inside. Good, compassionate characters are disguised as rebellious and seen as evil by their society – it feels very New Testament. Along with these conflicted characters is the ever-present wrestling between means and ends.
In the book, Shusterman also makes somewhat cliche commentary on wealth, power. But it’s still interesting and refreshing. It’s strange though because while Shusterman gives simplicity, humility, and wisdom high value in the book, he simultaneously and reluctantly glorifies violence, killing, and physicality – it’s hard for me to reconcile these inconsistent viewpoints. Is he trying to show the seductiveness of evil? Maybe that’s the case, but still, Shusterman glorifies murder way too much for my taste, especially in light of the other deeper and meaningful aspects of the books.
Overall, I enjoyed Shusterman’s between-the-lines wrestling with God, the Bible, and the finality and hopelessness of death. And the unique, future utopia he created is definitely a great conversation starter.