Cover Image: The Companions

The Companions

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I can't believe this book was published in March 2020. But while The Companions does have a pandemic in its background, and it is structured around quarantine, the story is much more focused on the titular companions: a sort-of AI living occupying various generations of bodies, beginning with clunky robots (I pictured a sleeker version of Rosie from The Jetsons) to almost indistinguishable humanoid bodies. 

And I say "sort-of AI" because they aren't quite "just AI." Instead, people can have their consciousness, their memories, uploaded and then turned into these companions. This quote summed it up nicely, I thought: "They upload our dead and lease them back to us."

And that's where the intersecting stories of Lilac, Gabe, Cam, Diana, Nat, and others all come together. They weave in and out of each other's lives: some companions, some humans, and some wind up being a bit of both. The Companions is about where we belong, and who we belong with - those we choose to be with, those we're forced to be with, and those we sort of wind up with. It is about relationships formed through friendship and love that extend beyond death. And it is about how memory, in turn, defines us, haunts us, and can inform our futures.
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In her debut novel, The Companions (Gallery/Scout Press, 2020), Katie M. Flynn weaves a complex history that feels familiar yet refreshingly unpredictable. The Companions propels readers head-first into a not-so-distant, science fiction future in which technology has transformed the process of death: rather than escaping the world’s quarantines and deadly viruses, those who die become “companions” for the living. As a companion, the dead person’s consciousness is uploaded into an artificial body that can range from primitively robotic to impressively humanlike, and they begin their new life—if it can really be called that. The Companions is set to be released March 3, 2020. 

The novel follows the main character, a companion named Lilac, who initially lives with and looks after Dahlia, a young girl who pursues her education while quarantined in her San Francisco home due to the deadly virus that ravages California. Unlike more fortunate companions who belong to richer families, Lilac is a lower, less advanced model who resembles a robot with her square head, wheel track, and joints where strands of Dahlia’s golden hair often become stuck. Even so, Lilac’s relationship with Dahlia is very much human. 

While Lilac merely serves as Dahlia’s companion and is despised by her mother, Lilac genuinely cares for Dahlia. She constantly aims to make Dahlia laugh and amuse her with stories from the past, as if to distract the young girl from the horrors that now plague her world. 

Although this system may bring to mind Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go upon first glance, Flynn’s take on futuristic companionship has added complexities as technology progresses and the differences between humans and companions dwindle. Flynn encourages the reader to look past Lilac’s initial clunky, contraction-less speech and affirmations of her technological limitations as a less advanced model. As we learn of her inability to escape her jarringly real past and of the extent of her whole-hearted devotion to Dahlia, who Lilac later addresses as her sister, it becomes difficult not to register Lilac as a human character. 

The Companions moves quickly and transports readers between different narrators, from California to Russia, and across time within the turn of a page. Even with the novel’s focus on Lilac, The Companions shares its 272 pages with a total of eight narrators, including the wild, rebellious nine-year-old Gabe and well-intentioned caretaker Cam, among others. With such a large pool of both companion and human characters to work with, Flynn’s clear and authentic prose adapts to her narrators’ distinct voices as they recount either their experiences as companions or their experiences with one. In addition, the novel is told in three parts, beginning with two years after the introduction of California’s quarantine before transitioning into the quarantine’s end and finally finishing with the recall of all companions. 

While at times disorienting, the novel’s organization simulates the reincarnation of companions as we receive a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a different narrator with each new chapter, waking up in different places and at different points in time.  

Through the diverse narratives showcased in The Companions, Flynn comments honestly on the often destructive power that technology has over life, death, and humanity. She asserts that in the face of this growing power, freedom tends to wither away but continues to be something that everyone deserves, regardless of their identities. As the novel progresses, the characteristics that set companions apart from humans dwindle, and Flynn urges the reader to carefully consider what it means to be human and what it means to be alive. 

With her accessible and dynamic prose that seamlessly molds to embody each of her narrators, Flynn effectively encourages sympathy for all of her characters, leaving the reader both in awe and horror at the history she writes—the history that feels more emotional than artificial, more lifelike than fiction. At the same time, Flynn seems to offer a warning to her readers and does not shy away from the dangers of achieving immortality through AI. 

All in all, The Companions is more than the typical dose of dystopian sci-fi. It is a commentary on the power of technology and showcases the spectrum of experiences that comprise life. Through this novel, Flynn inspires readers to reflect on how we all experience love and loss in their complicated, messy, and beautiful forms, regardless of how different we may be told we are.
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Published by Gallery/Scout Press on March 3, 2020

The Companions would have benefitted from a more purposeful plot. The story recycles themes that are common in science fiction — storage of human memory in an artificial body, the exploitation of artificial constructs that have a connection to humanity, the faint line that separates what is human and what is machine — yet the exploration of those themes serves an unclear end. While characters occasionally have moral reservations about their conduct, the story never brings into focus the message, if any, that Katie Flynn wants to convey.

Companions are cheap robots that have been programmed with memories uploaded from people who are about to die. They are available for lease, not for ownership. They are said to have consciousness but no soul. Companions are useful for people who are quarantined or living in eldercare facilities. Plenty of people need them because of a virus that continues to do its deadly business. The quarantine is in the background so if you are looking for a story that provides insight into the world’s present plight, this isn’t it.

The story begins with a girl named Dahlia and her companion Lilac. Lilac retains the memory of her death as a teenager at the hands of another teen. She knows her friend Nikki was present when she died but doesn’t know what became of her. Her consciousness was uploaded shortly before her death. It then became the property of Metis, the company that manufactures companions. Flynn largely ignores the legal and ethical questions that surround private ownership of another person’s consciousness, except to suggest the obvious, that it might be a bad thing to own the equivalent of another person’s living brain.

Dahlia and her mother live in San Francisco. Dahlia’s mother resents paying for Lilac, despite purchasing a first-generation unit with an inexpensive processor that does not allow Lilac’s mind to mature. As Dahlia begins to outgrow her need for Lilac, and as it seems clear that Lilac will be recycled, Lilac lets loose the rage that she has kept contained.

From that opening chapter, the novel covers a period of years. For the most part, each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Novels that change narrators in each chapter must find a way to build a connection between the reader and at least some of the narrators. Flynn never made me care about any of them. Part of the problem is that few of the narrators felt like a unique individual. With the exception of Gabe, whose uneducated dialect is exaggerated, the characters speak in the same narrative voice. If the chapter headings did not announce the narrator, it would be difficult to understand whose voice the reader is hearing.

In any event, a damaged Lilac visits the person she believes to have killed her human body. She thereafter goes through various incarnations, hooks up with other renegade companions, and deals with an evolving world that eventually decides companions should be recalled and scrapped. A pivotal chapter in the novel’s middle tells of a woman approaching death whose plan to upload her consciousness to a companion is interrupted by an attempt to hijack the companion so that another consciousness will have a body. A later chapter introduces a farmer who takes on the recycling of defective companions as a side job and the daughter who eventually carries on that business. Those chapters also introduce a disturbed child named Andy who seems to prefer the company of companions, if only to have control over a consciousness other than his own.

Because it jumps from character to character, the story has a disjointed feel. Investing in or sympathizing with any character is difficult. That’s a drawback in a novel that is probably intended to make readers feel something for the plight of companions. Lilac turns out to be a disagreeable consciousness; her eventual reinterpretation of her own death made me shrug. A good deal of care went into the construction of a plot that is intermittently interesting, but if Flynn had a purpose in mind when telling this story, it eluded me.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS
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The description called to me as it mentioned Station Eleven, but I think that set my expectations too high.  It was fine, but nothing special.
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This was such an intriguing concept, but unfortunately it fell a bit flat to me. I wanted more from the characters and the plot. It never really held my interest.
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In 2009 Flynn was writing short stories, while finding her voice. She began to look at dystopian worlds as a way to comment on our present times. Her journals and sketches evolved into her debut novel, The Companions. A prescient look at a pandemic along with the possibility of 'immortality; as designed by the corporate world.

What if a life could be extended by placing a consciousness into an android? What if a virus was so virulent people willingly confined themselves to lock downs. What if the person's immortality came at a price; they have been redesigned as a compliant caregiver helpmate to the wealthy. In a very real sense, slavery exists again.

Flynn tells the story from many points of view, occasionally the voice is muddled, leading some confusion for the reader. Told over a long period of time with abrupt jumps from one location to the next, we follow Lilac one of the oldest companions. With so many characters, some are not as fully developed, their stories pop up, and are dropped with out a full resolution. More philosophy, than science fiction, this novel would be an interesting choice for book clubs in today's rapidly changing world.

Recommended

Full disclosure: I received and ARC copy of this book from netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
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The Companions by Katie M. Flynn was a disappointing read for me. I found it difficult to understand from the outset and this discouraged me significantly. The plot appealed to me and I’d hoped to become engrossed. I was not much interested in the characters whether living human or otherwise.  

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster Publishers for the opportunity to read this debut novel.
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The Companions was an interesting story. I like to see where stories about the dead being reanimated go. It's such a creepy idea and what I liked about this book was the idea that the dead can be uploaded to machines, and are kept around to be companions who provide a service to the living. Even in this scenario of the dead being reanimated, there are class systems and as usual, the wealthy have more options than the less wealthy. The wealthy can afford to upload their consciousness before they die and are therefore able to remain in the custody of their families. The less wealthy are treated like rental cars and are loaned to strangers once they die. The downside is that all companions are now a new class of people and are the intellectual property of Meltis Corp. They have no legal rights to free will.
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Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Unfortunately, I did not download this in time to read and review.  I will pay attention next time and not let it happen again.  Thank you.
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When I saw this book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it because I thought to myself, "a book about a pandemic in the middle of real life a pandemic? Sounds interesting." I was slightly disappointed by this story though. What I figured would be a story about a pandemic was actually more a story about "the companions" then it is about the quarantine and the virus. I guess that could be expected from the name. I liked the premise of the story, but the multiple narrators got a bit confusing because they all sounded very similar. It made it hard for me to keep my interest in the story. I'm giving it three stars because it was not a bad book, but it wasn't really the book for me! Thank you Netgalley for my arc!
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I felt like this book had a lot of potential, but ultimately fell kind of flat for me. I did purchase it for my library because, hey, who knows, maybe someone will enjoy it more than I did. The writing was solid and I would definitely try future works from this author.
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Well written story. Kept me engaged the entire time. A page turner for sure! Looking forward to reading more books by this author!
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While it is true that The Companions is set during and in relationship to a pandemic, which is eerily well timed to today, it was never the most important part of the book for me. If you are wanting a fiction story that touches on what we are going through in the world now, I don’t really think this is it. That said, what this is about for me is the idea of life and why it means - artificial or recreated life vs “real” life, what it means a to be family, and the power of memories. For me, this book was captivating in all the right ways. I was hopeful that I would like it based on the description, and after glancing at a few reviews before reading, I was a little scared it would be a let down. However, I loved it. The story and the characters drew me in and I found myself flying through this book. The only thing that really frustrates me was the first chapter with Gabe. Her voice and the intentional grammatical and dialect mess that was meant to introduce her was just frustrating to me. It almost pulled me out of the story. After that chapter (very early in the book), that style of writing thankfully disappeared, and the book was much better for the fact that it was gone. It was just hard to read and comprehend and I think there are much better ways to convey her character than by making the reader slog though it. 

Overall, I loved the characters and the rotating points of view. I loved that all of the characters were tied back together in some way. It was always interesting to see how each one fit back in. It was not always how I expected, which is a good thing. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone!
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This book was riveting from the first page. I was loving it. And then COVID-19 came along and the world went into lockdown, and the whole thing felt just a little too close to home, a little too prescient, and I had to stop. I will finish this book, though, and I have a feeling it will be one of my top ten, up there with Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. Beautifully written, intriguing, exciting...just a little too on the nose at the beginning of 2020.
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We are in the midst of a pandemic. Covid-19 is making history as it infects and takes lives around the world. The Companions couldn't come out at a better time or so I thought until I started to read it and found out that the virus in the book have very little to do with the actual story. It's just background information. A virus has hit resulting in mass deaths, people are under quarantine, borders are closed and companions become common place. They are robots, that act and look human to different degrees dependent upon what you can afford. Companions (some) develop consciousness and our main character companion, Lilac enters the story. Lilac was murdered as a teen and she has been "uploaded" into a companion. Lilac goes rouge and and bunch of other characters both human and companion enter the story. Eight or maybe more (I lost count) viewpoints are told  centering around Lilac as she hops from body to body.

This book is strange and I am not sure what exactly to make out of it. Do I like it? Not sure but I finished reading it so that must mean something, right? Perhaps it's a bit too sci-fiction for me. I wanted to read about the virus, what it was, how it affected people, the breakdown of society and the sociological ramifications of these changes instead I got robots, quarantines and humans.

I can say this though. It's really quite fascinating to read a book about  (a pandemic) in real time.
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STRANGELY SO RELEVANT TO TODAY'S WORLD! I could not stop reading once I started. A truly fantastic story that takes readers on an insane journey that feels incredibly close to home. Lovers of Margaret Atwood will LOVE The Companions!
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Maybe I shouldn't have read this at the outset of the Covid epidemic, but my heart just wasn't in this.
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The Companions is a tale of robot like Companions which can be uploaded with the consciousness of the dead and obviously only the wealthy enrol in this companionship!! The less fortunate people are rented, somewhat similar to slavery. 
Lilac is one such less fortunate. When she realised she can break the rules, she flees to find her killer!! 
The concept is amazing.. the dystopian future setting and the build is really impressive. But it fell short in captivating the reader and keeping the focus on the plot. The story has 8 povs, I really couldn’t keep up with who is and who is not a companion. Had a lot of potential, but the confusion led to the downfall!!
3.5/5
Thank u Netgalley, Katie.M.Flynn and publisher for the ARC.
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The Companions certainly has a fantastic concept, and in some ways it is also a rather timely read. I was interested in the world of the book but I had problems connecting with the characters, and failed to find it as engaging as I would have liked.
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Thank You to Gallery/Scout Press for providing me with a copy of Katie M. Flynn’s novel, The Companions, in exchange for an honest review.

In the near-future the world has suffered a deadly pandemic that has resulted in years of quarantine. Scientist have developed a way to transfer human souls into robots, allowing humans a way to become immortal, but the catch is they are property of the Metis Corporation. The Metis Corporation leases the robots, referred to as “Companions” to other humans. Sometimes those who take on the lease are the family members of the companion and sometimes, when a family member is unwilling or cannot afford the lease, the companions are sent out to be workers. The companions not only provide companionship to the lonely who are quarantined, but they can perform tasks without fear of catching the virus.

Lilac has been leased by a family to provide companionship to their young daughter. Although Lilac only has vague memories of her human life, she begins to recall certain events and with some internet sleuthing, she learns that she had been murdered as a teenager. It is now decades later and she wants to find her murderer to seek revenge, before that person dies. 

The Companions offers an intriguing premise and brings up plenty of ethical issues. Would you be willing to lease your soul to a corporation in exchange for a longer life? What obligations does that company have to provide for your care? What happens when you out live those you knew in real life? Is a robot with a semi-human soul still human? The idea for The Companions caught my attention immediately. It reminded me of the series Black Mirror.

Unfortunately, the actual plot failed to hold my interest. It had strong moments, but I never felt connected to the characters. There are many characters and plots, so many that they become muddled. The plots do intersect, but I wasn’t satisfied. I think it would have worked better as a series of short stories based in the post-pandemic story world, each dealing with the various implications of having companions.

The Companions will benefit from buzz due to its eerie timing. It was published the first week in March, right as much of the world was about to be locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, there is no way that Flynn could have realized this when she wrote The Companions, but many of her ideas about how a lock down would feel and heaviness of it all, are spot on. Our current world situation added to my discomfort and sense of unease, that I likely would not have felt if I had read The Companions at any other time.
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