THE MOTHER CODE by Carole Stivers

From the publisher:

What it means to be human—and a mother—is put to the test in Carole Stivers’s debut novel set in a world that is more chilling and precarious than ever.

The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert Southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai is faced with a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

Set in a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.


Carole Stivers takes on a topic which almost by definition is beyond any attempts to diagnosis it. It is what is motherhood? What does it signify to those becoming mothers and how they perceive their offspring? How do the children look upon the figure of their mother aside from the normal views of the protector, guide, and the epitome of love?     

The story takes place in the near future as a conflict between nations decimates the populations of the countries. The United States tries an experiment by building a group of robots meant for the care and raising of human children. It is hoped that this will allow replenishment of the species. Using advanced techniques the robots are inculcated with an instinct and desire to care for and nurture embryos of human children entrusted to their care. Each robot has a space within them where the child can be protected and guided and used as a living quarters.     

The robots are followed secretly and watched as their charges grow and develop. They are guided into taking the children into a situation where they can pick up food and water deposited for them and at the age of 6 years brought together as a means of socializing them. Several of the children are followed as are some of the adults that were involved in setting up the experiment.     

It is obviously the author’s opinions that guide the direction of the novel, but she does develop a scenario that makes for a fascinating read, and the question of whether or not an artificial replacement for the human trait of motherhood could ever replace the real thing. A different type of story from any others, and one that is a definite five-star all-nighter and one that poses questions beyond any others I have come across.

11/2020 Paul Lane

THE MOTHER CODE by Carole Stivers. Berkley (August 25, 2020). ISBN: 978-1984806925. 352 pages.

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