The Phantom Scientist

MIT. Feb. 2023. 128p. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin. ISBN 9780262047869. $24.95. SF
Cousin makes his English-language debut with a tragicomic tale of academia and entrenchment, of philosophy and computer logic, with an idiosyncratic cast of unusual suspects. The Institute is a sort of panopticon, wherein academic researchers from various disciplines are isolated and scrutinized as they pursue their research, in a higher-order experiment to understand how and why institutional systems break down. When the story begins, the fourth such institute is lingering on the precipice of devolution, due to a seemingly simple discovery that would skyrocket the development of artificial intelligence. A few curious researchers decide to delve into the disappearance of one of their housemates, and in turn, the Institute’s dramatic end is accelerated. This phantom, or perhaps simply absent, scientist’s foundation-shaking research is compelling, but the biting critique of the fascinating, fruitful, and all too often futile work of academic life is the true core of this book. Cousin’s illustrations are rounded and colorful, bringing an enjoyable dissonance to the dark tale.
VERDICT A puzzle, a panopticon, and an invitation to seek answers even as obstructions abound, this is an engaging, dryly funny read for armchair philosophers, disillusioned academics, and the unceasingly curious.
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