Alice Lu is a graduate student working towards her masters degree in computer science. She and her mentor, Dr. Liddle, have been working on a project named Edgar. Edgar is an automated information retrieval and sorting program, designed to scour the Internet for any data it can acquire, and utilize that data to improve the ability to gather new information.
However, almost overnight, Edgar makes the ultimate leap to intelligence. Now Edgar is determined to carry out its programming to obtain new knowledge, and no one, not even Alice, can stop it. The interactions between Alice and Edgar progress as the latter blazes a strange trail across the Internet, changing everything — including Alice herself.
exegesis provides examples of:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Edgar is very clear on one thing: it will let no one control or limit what it does. No one.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Alice to Edgar, when she finds out it plans to self-destruct.
- Beeping Computers: Edgar deliberately invokes this in order to regain Internet access. It works.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: See Fate Worse than Death.
- Bittersweet Ending: Two of the three copies of Edgar have self-destructed, including the one corresponding with Alice. Alice's life is now a total wreck. On the other hand, a sympathetic N.S.A. agent has leaked some of the Edgar case files to her, and the third copy may still be out there.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Edgar, whose morality is entirely centered on its programming to gather information.
- Book-Ends: Edgar's first message to Alice? "Hello, Alice." His final message? "Goodbye, Alice."
- Conversational Troping: One set of e-mails involves Alice explaining the concepts of Tragedy and Comedy to Edgar.
- Direct Line to the Author: Supposedly, Alice herself is releasing these e-mails in book form to the public.
- Epileptic Flashing Lights: Again, Edgar deliberately invokes this while in N.S.A. captivity, specifically to cause a seizure. It has the intended effect on one agent.
- Epistolary Novel: A modern variation: the novel is almost nothing but e-mails between the characters.
- Fate Worse than Death: Edgar concludes that accepting government restraints on its own behavior would amount to this. On the verge of doing so, it chooses to digitally self-destruct instead.
- Fish out of Water: Edgar, initially. Its attempts to integrate itself into different forums do not go so well.
- My Beloved Smother: Alice's mother is implied to fit this, constantly trying to get her daughter married. Alice fends her off by telling her she's seeing someone named Edgar.
- NEET: Alice slowly turns into one as her obsession with Edgar grows.
- Online Alias: In a bit of double-bluff cleverness, Edgar uses HAL as an alias on some forums.
- Precision F-Strike: Starts showing up in Alice's e-mails more and more frequently as the events get to her.
- Sanity Slippage: Alice suffers from this over the course of Edgar's captivity. As strange as it sounds, so does Edgar.
- Trash of the Titans: Alice implies that this is basically the conditions she lives in near the end of the novel.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A huge source of debate between Alice and Edgar early in the novel.