Melissa Scott's The Shape of Their Hearts presents readers with an all too easily imagined future in which the desire for information has become the driving force at all levels of society. Power rests with those who have the ability to access and harness data, regardless of their motivations.

In a world where religious cults abound, it should be no great stretch to imagine an artificial intelligence (AI) as a deity. It is easy to envision an army of believers who accept their deity's command to convert others to their beliefs by whatever means necessary including violence. In The Shape of Their Hearts, the will of the Deity is interpreted by its priests, and commandments are handed down to the faithful. The Deity and its followers have made the planet Idun (also called Eden) a risky place to leave unguarded, and the Territorial authority responds with a complete blockade to the planet. To complicate matters, there is a programming bug in the Deity that threatens to destroy all computer systems on Eden and anywhere else it can spread. Someone or something must purge the virus from the huge network, and only Anton Tso, blackmarketeer and software genius, has the expertise to repair the damage a task that threatens both Tso and the Deity.

Scott has created an alien world with characters that readers will recognize, and a society that is almost too familiar. The true terror comes with realizing what little separates our world from a world such as Eden. The Shape of Their Hearts is entertaining and chilling. Scott has the talent to bring her imaginings to life with insights into human nature that will surely cause her audience to examine their own lives more closely.

Reviewed by Lisa DuMond.

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