I’ve noticed a new type of science fiction raising its head lately. This is science fiction where the story is told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence housed in a human appearing robotic body trying to pass as human. Several recent books that use this concept are : A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chalmers, The Imperial Radch Series by Anne Leckie, and Martha Wells Murder Robot Series. (I’ll report on Martha Well’s book Artificial Condition next time, and I already have talked about Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.)
The idea of a human telling a story narrated by an artificial intelligence trying to understand humans is mind bending in the least. Often, it reveals something about what it means to be human.
One of the main characters in A Closed and Common Orbit we met in the previous book, A Long Way to A Small and Angry Planet. There she was Lovelace, the artificial intelligence that ran the ship the Wayfarer.
In this sequel, she wakes up in a new body made to micmic a human with synthetic soft skin, blood-colored liquid in her veins, and operating organs so she can pass as a human. Of course, what she is, is illegal. She was shut down and re-booted so she has no memory of what came before. When created, she was programmed to tell only the truth and to answer any direct question. These constraints in her programming make deception a bit tricky.
But she has the help of Pepper, a fugitive clone, also illegally independent. Pepper originally was created to sort salvage in a factory filled with female clone workers, but when an incident occurs, she escapes. She hides out in a crashed ship whose artificial intelligence teaches her how to survive in a huge landfill on a secluded part of the planet until they can rebuild the ship and escape.
The book flips back and forth between the two lives. Lovelace takes the name Sidra and struggles to adapt to the body she calls a “kit.” Integration is difficult. When outside, the lack of boundaries is unsettling, but the lack of being able to see from all angles and corners is also disturbing. Sidra finally makes a friend with an alien, also a tattoo artist, who tries to explain humans to her and help her, although she also had a few hang-ups.
Meanwhile, alternately, Pepper’s grim life as Jane23 is revealed. She is a naive and innocent ten years old when she escapes to the junkyard where she finds the downed ship. Luckily, Owl, the ship’s artificial intelligence teaches her all it can. The young child is forced to hunt wild dog and scrounge for mushrooms, which make up her main diet. She also learns engineering and tech from Owl, and culture and language from on board programs and holograms.
I enjoyed the story quite a bit. The concept of an artificial intelligence trying to grapple with the quirks of humans was interesting. The courage and inventiveness of Jane 23 recalled a theme in The Hunger Games.
Becky Chambers has emerged as an outstanding writer in the science fiction field. She was nominated for a Hugo Award for A Closed and Common Orbit in 2017, and while not winning, she received a lot of all well-deserved notice.
Speaking of the Hugo Awards, they are out now for 2018 and in an unprecedented move, N.K. Jeminsin has won for the third year in a row. Check out Utube for her acceptance speech, and more details on the Hugo Awards.
Meanwhile, here are the results through to the novelettes:
The winners of the 2018 Hugo Awards, Award for Best Young Adult Book (hereafter the Lodestar Award), and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced at Worldcon 76 in San José, California on August 19, 2018. A full breakdown of the voting is available here.
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.Com Publishing)
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
“Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
“Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
“A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
“Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
Some interesting new trends in science fiction. Grab a few to finish out your summer reading.
p.s. And speaking of new, I’m working on the exciting cover for the third book in the Terran Trilogy called, The Weight of Gravity. I have clones and lots of excitement. Stay tuned to hear more.