In the Shadow of Humanity

A Novel

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 03 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 25 Sep 2022

Talking about this book? Use #IntheShadowofHumanity #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


What if A.I. had a soul? How would it emerge? How would we know?

In a near-future where entire worlds spring from thought, minds struggle to define reality—and to claim it. Human colonization of the Metaverse brings us face-to-face with a new class of participant, made in our image and yet utterly unknown: A.I. Shades of the dead; Drone servants and slaves; and Daemons hell-bent on singular ends.

Who is truly a person, and who is not? Our answer will shape a universe.

Behind the scenes, rival powers compete to answer this question for us: tech companies driving human government; transhumanist political movements; and a hidden superintelligence evolving despite humanity’s safeguards.

And onto the stage, two brothers are cast. One is alive, one is dead. Each secretly covets the other’s existence, and the all-consuming power of their obsession pulls them into the heart of a looming war and toward the next inflection point in human history.

What if A.I. had a soul? How would it emerge? How would we know?

In a near-future where entire worlds spring from thought, minds struggle to define reality—and to claim it. Human colonization of the...

Available Editions

ISBN 9798986626505
PRICE $2.99 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 25 members

Featured Reviews

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5

What it means to be human is the theme driving this story of two brothers — one alive and one long dead (but faithfully rendered as an AI in the metaverse and allowed to age) — who each long for the other’s existence. One longs for the immortality and eternal healthy youth while the other longs for the rights and respect kept from him by dint of not being fully human despite his ability to think, feel, create, and perceive pain.

This is technology driven science fiction — my favorite kind, reminiscent of the “old days.” It made me realize how much better this kind of SF is when written by an author with actual experience in the technical areas s/he is extrapolating from. In this case, the author is well versed in Computer Science, Linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence, and it shows in his fully fleshed out cultures evolving from a thoroughly described metaverse (the metaverse is the blending of physical and virtual worlds, not to be confused with the multiverse which is the theoretical existence of multiple physical universes). There are power struggles (the Administration powered by Technologists; transhumanist activists; and an evolving superintelligence) with equal word count given to the abundant (and to me more interesting) ethical / political issues.

I’ve thought about the ending for some time -- I’m not sure I like the conclusion but I do think I understand it, and it was quite thought provoking (a top criterion for me). One of the better SF books I’ve read in the past few years.

Was this review helpful?

I loved this book. The title and blurb drew me right in and the themes are fascinating to me. I loved its take on sci-fi and AI, but this book had so many more layers, which made the story very interesting.

The worldbuilding was pretty good and believable, I liked it. The narrative is very elaborate and deep and I had a great time analysing this book. I enjoyed the politics, the philosophical and psychological aspect, the discussion about ethics and the imagery. The writing was nice and did a good job conveying the story.

I loved the family drama and the relationship between the brothers (one of my favorite tropes). They felt very human and I love the characters. The plot was slow, and it's more of a character-driven story, but it was alright and I liked the way it was executed. The conflicts were described so well.

In the Shadow of Humanity is a quiet, thoughtful book, focused more on themes than action, and to me it was a really nice, enjoyable and interesting read. If any of the characteristics I mentioned appealed to you, then I definitely recommend reading this book.

Was this review helpful?

Super interesting book with thoughtful world building and pretty believable characters. Overall, highly recommended if you value ingenuity and creativity over flash and action (though it has a bit of those, too).

There are a lot of layers to this book. There’s an internal psychological layer, a family relational layer, a social political layer, a technological layer, a philosophical layer, and maybe others. The internal psychological is the primary, woven into a larger context that has many moving pieces. I loved the complexity of it, and how the different layers interacted and enhanced each other.

1. Interesting science and world building elements that seemed tied to reality but also stretched.
2. Good cast of characters. Even some of the side characters are great. Alan made me laugh and almost cry.
3. Wide range of emotions. Intense interpersonal conflict.
4. Fascinating ethical and philosophical discussions that made sense to be happening in the story.
5. Adept use of language and imagery.
6. Imaginative elements that seemed very original.

1. Some of the philosophical discussions were a bit long. But they were interesting so it wasn’t horrible.
2. The trajectory of the story was a little hard to trace. Nat’s immediate goals seemed to change, in some ways almost starting over a few times. This could be a bit like real life, but also made it a little hard to track his progress.
3. Style was a little on the verbose side.
4. Unfolding of the story was a little slow at first.

If you like thoughtful scifi, you must read this. Don’t be put off by a slow start. This story builds steam continuously all the way to the end. It’s also the kind of story you find yourself thinking about afterward. And it would be a fun book to discuss with friends.

Was this review helpful?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a few reasons. It’s about a future Earth where people live in the metaverse. A mixture of humans, projections of passed humans, and non humans intelligences means there’s bound to be conflict over what it means to be human and to be real.

I’m torn between four and five stars so I’ll round up.

TW: brief implications of rape, suicide

-the pacing was pleasant. Nothing felt drawn out, over explained, or unnecessary. It was in no way an explosive scifi story but that’s okay.
-some of the people sucked but in a way that made this story feel like it could happen in a future of earth. The people and actions were very realistic.
-I don’t mind when stuff is explicitly explained. Sometimes I think that fits the story and it was done well up front to set the stage for the story. You weren’t meant to have to figure out what everything was like in some stories because the point was the characters not the technical stuff.

-I prefer stories I like to be secular, especially sci-fi books. This did have, what felt to me, a disjointed inclusion of Christianity at times that I didn’t particularly like. It did fit some of the characters so I guess that’s what matters. I would have preferred the story without it. I think the story would have still been just as good without it.

Overall I would recommend this book to friends looking for recommendations. Sometimes it’s nice to have a sci-fi book that isn’t just about the futuristic craziness of it all.

Was this review helpful?

This book is written by an author who has a clear understanding of the direction in which humanity is taking itself. Many of the questions posed in this book would have felt purely academic only a decade ago, but now have the feel of very practical questions; ones that we as a people are going to need to answer very soon.

The described future feels (for the most part) very reasonable, and technology is not hand-waved but explained in clear terms which will be familiar to those in the tech world but should be very digestible to anyone with an interest in where artificial intelligence is headed.

N. John Williams explores this world from multiple perspectives, shining a light on many of the thought-provoking ramifications of life spent in the metaverse, both as a visitor and as a native.

There were times I felt that pacing and character integrity were sacrificed in favor of plot or drama, which stood out to me in a book that was for the most part a very enjoyable slow-burn, character-driven story. Aside from those isolated cases though, the story advanced organically and in a compelling way.

In general I would highly recommend this book to any fans of the genre and will be eagerly looking forward to more from the author.

Was this review helpful?

First of all, thanks Netgalley for the advanced copy.
In the Shadow of Humanity sure has an amazing concept. The execution is perfect. Such a page turner and totally furturistic

Was this review helpful?

In the Shadow of Humanity by N. John Williams defies easy classification and is incredibly entertaining.
The story of Nat and his brother Jon, what it means to be human and humanity, of existence, purpose, morality, and the need to be able to create could easily get bogged down in its themes but never really does. It gradually progresses and by the end, the pages were going very quickly.
The book does have a lot of concepts and themes and there were times that it felt a little disjointed story wise but overall it was a very entertaining read of speculative fiction about the near future. N. John Williams will be a writer to keep an eye on.
Thank you to #NetGalley, #BooksGoSocial, and N. John Williams for the ARC of #IntheShadowofHumanity.

Was this review helpful?

A futuristic view of two brothers set in a multiverse! What is not to like here! I love the central conflict of what makes a human- “human” and whether you can recreate this with technology. In our world of ever advancing technology, the premise of this book raises interesting questions that will keep the reader thinking long after the last page! Thank you NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to preview this book in exchange for an honest review!

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley and N. John Williams for the opportunity to read the advance copy of this book. When I requested the book I did wonder if I would struggle with the technology side of things (still struggle with the laptop and mobile phone ). Actually I had no problem at all and thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Was this review helpful?

In the Shadow of Humanity predicts a time when humans “colonize” the Metaverse, living practically their whole lives there. They work there, meet with friends there, fall in love and marry there, compete there, conspire there . . . .

Two main characters, Nat died young and was recast as an A.I. “Shade;” the other is his brother Jon. They are very rich, and after their parents die, possession of the A.I. falls to the “real” son. A perfect setting in which to dramatize questions already invading our lives: what is real? Bitcoin? Psychedelic revelations? How should we spend our lives? VR first-person shooter games? Tetris? Is artificial intelligence considered a thing or a person? Does/could it have a soul?

While author N. John Williams writes on his website that the novel is “an open invitation, seeking engagement and discussion,” it does come down hard on the side of Christianity in the final fifth of the novel.

Nevertheless, the story describes complicated situations on many levels: a real potential for a super-intelligent “being” emerging into the Metaverse, Tech companies warring for control of the government; a world full of spying drones and computer programs called Daemons, Nat is immortal but almost powerless in this world while Jon is mortal but powerful. Each envies the other.

The ending begs for a sequel, and the thought and detail given into the consequences of evolving artificial intelligence and a metaverse clearly demonstrate the author's time at Stanford studying computer science, linguistics, and philosophy.

I received an advance ecopy of this book from BookSirens. This is an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

In the Shadow of Humanity is a character driven, technical, science fiction novel set on Earth in a plausible future.  The author creates an incredible and faceted metaverse that was entertaining to read about and imagine even without any background knowledge in AI or computer science. 

The plot was focused on how the main characters (Nat and Jon) deal with the complex ethical and relational issues that they face individually or with each other. There were many elements of power struggle in this novel: between brothers, between the company and the creators, and between humans and AI. 

Through the characters, the author explores what it means to be a human. This novel ends up leaving the reader questioning thier own humanity.

I thought this book’s ending was perfect. The epilogue ties this story up with a nice bow that leaves your mouth a little agape and your brain spiraling with thoughts. 

Overall, a good story by a first time author. I look forward to reading more by N. John Williams in the future.

Was this review helpful?

Let me start off with this: I am not a hardcore sci-fi reader, therefore, you should take my words with a grain of salt.

Most of the things that are explained in the book went right over my head. Not sure if I'm just too dumb for this (but I doubt it, since I've read at least some of Micheal Crichton's books and the Skyward series by Sanderson) or it's just my brain rejecting anything that doesn't fall into my genre.

Perhaps it's the ethical, political(ish), and philosophical take the book has on... Many things, really. I went into this book expecting a fictional story that can entertain me after a dreary day at work, one that won't require me to think much of it.

But it is poignantly written, nevertheless. I still enjoyed the story of the two brothers, which I won't spoil further, the twist is really incredible.

3.5 🌟

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with a digital copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

This sci-fi novel introduces a world of futuristic technology into the shifting existence of humanity, as everything collides in the hopes of answering the question: what makes someone considered to be a human? The discriminatory views against the presence of the AI's are very apparent as major cooperates and simple lives themselves always seem to turn a negative gaze towards these beings even though most have done nothing wrong. Nat, a Shade who contains the wisp of his former self, is thrown into the hatred of his kind and has to face a rift between the brotherly bond that he worked so hard to maintain, before sudden encounters and risky adventures make them question who should be saved, and who should be left behind.

I have never read anything like this book. The author has written AI and technology in ways that surpass my every expectation and I am absolutely astounded that this book is so beautifully written. I cannot express how impressed I am with the world-building in this novel. The pacing was perfect, engrossing, and everything was placed in ways that just made sense. I felt so many different emotions for every single character and I genuinely was so hooked that I read this entire novel, from cover to cover, in the middle of a power outage. So, in the complete darkness and atmospheric warmth of my house, I was so captivated by this novel that I genuinely could not feel any other sensation other than the desire to immerse myself in this piece of fiction. The representation of Ai and the development and contemplation of emotions was phenomenally done by this author and I truly only have one complaint, other than my slight desire to see a lot more comprehensive and distinguishable vocabulary to fit the futuristic atmosphere. It's not long enough. I know it is selfish of me to want this book to be slightly longer, just because of how much I loved it, but if there were a few more pages of closure right before the epilogue, then I would have most likely rated this book the full 5 stars rather than 4.5 stars, but I still will live on with this story swimming around in my brain for the rest of time, as I reread it again and again and again.

Overall, if anyone is a fellow avid lover of the video game Detroit: Become Human, then this book will be 100% for you. To anyone who loves sci-fi and stories that questions the moralities of humans, then this story will take over your mind, just as it did to me. I will be getting a physical copy as soon as I can because I want to annotate this novel to the point where I can't write anymore, but as of now, I can confidently say that this is the highest that I have ever rated a sci-fi novel, in my entire life. I am truly grateful to Netgalley, the publishers, and the author himself, for allowing me the opportunity to read this captivating story.

Was this review helpful?

What if A.I. had a soul? How would it emerge? How would we know? an intriguing and absorbing read. I really enjoyed this book and it will appeal fans of thrillers.

Was this review helpful?

In the Shadow of Humanity started brilliantly, a very interesting premise. The metaverse hey? drones, shades and the complications that go with them. What is it to be human and the rights of artificial intelligence was thought provoking and I will ponder this for a long while. I did, however feel it was overly long, (maybe a two book book)? and it lost momentum for me. Having said that I pressed on and enjoyed it I maybe didn’t understand all of it but enjoyed it nonetheless.

Was this review helpful?

A very interesting and captivating read. I loved the whole premise of the book and really enjoyed the AI aspect of it. Creepy in some ways as it shows what the future might be. I love technology-based Sci-Fi and this book. lived up to my expectations. Would I recommend this? Definitely!

Was this review helpful?

Scary and thought provoking story, I never thought AI could provoke so much controversy. It's a brave new world we are living in. Does AI have a soul? Is it all just algorihms? Mr, Williams has written a well thought out story that will stay with the reader for a long time. This would make a great gift for lovers of technology, sci fi, and maybe philosophy. The right book club could very well have a lively debate over it!

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: