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Short Story Review: Containment By Susan Kaye Quinn

Dark beyond stars cover image

From Dark Beyond the Stars: A Space Opera Anthology edited by David Gatewood.Spoiler warning: there are spoilers in here. There kind of always are when I do these things because as one of those weirdos who doesn’t care about spoilers (99% of the time) I’m kind of spoiler-blind when I write.

Also, this review appeared on my Patreon page ten days before appearing here. Become a patron and you’ll not only help boost me and my POOR POOR SUFFERING CHILDREN toward the poverty line and, hopefully soonish, actually over it, but you’ll get to see a lot of posts way early, plus occasional exclusive posts, and you can even get free ebooks when I publish (and you get those a whole MONTH before the rest of the world! But now, the review:

Containment is an artificial intelligence in a Solar System wide civilization story. It’s also a know thyself story. And a coming of age story in a strange sort of way, and a finding your purpose in life story. Maybe a work-life balance story. And…

…there’s a lot to unpack in this one. The last paragraph makes it sound like the story is a massive chaotic mashup and it definitely is not.

It’s an elegant story. It progresses smoothly. It bears you along like an inevitable word-river. The imagery is not literary or flashy but in this story it should not be. The real beauty and intrigue is elsewhere and too much flash in the outside world would only be a distraction. In this story the author is too smart to distract you.

As I read, I felt echoes of the technological hard science fiction of the masters of the 1950s and 60s, yet it was undeniably modern and accessible. That impressed me and brought out happy memories of myself as a child in the ’70s and a teen in the ’80s immersed in 10 and 20 and 30 year old books and loving them.

There’s an element of mystery in this story, and the eventual revelation of the purpose of the little tower of rocks discovered in the beginning by the Mining Master of Thebe, one of Jupiter’s smaller moons, is natural and smoothly handled, as are the little hints along the way.

Much of the story takes place in the inner world and reasoning of the Mining Master, who is an artificial intelligence (and whose interchangeable purpose-made bodies are an interesting, useful, and story-vital feature). We spend a lot of time in their head before and after the stealthy and subversive upgrade the Master gives himself without permission from his superiors.

While internal impressions and monologue can be boring, it is not here. I found myself fascinated. The protagonist’s inner life is at turns logical and soulful, robotic and humanistic as they cycle from full sentience to blunted sentience to full sentience again and then to something more, something undeniably human.

It’s a what makes us human story, too. And a what could make AI human story. A type of story that has been done many, many times before, but in this incarnation made me stay up reading so late it became early and the birds singing in the dawn made it difficult to fall asleep. Damn your wily storytelling, Susan Kaye Quinn!

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“One More For The Road” — Learning to drive in a future where nobody knows how to drive

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Yes, this one is about acquiring an archaic skill that nobody needs — driving an uncomputerized car in a time when cars not only drive themselves, but have no user-accessible steering wheel, accelerator, brake, not even a switch for the headlights. Where your car not only drives you, but it also comes to your side when you call — literally.

Stories that simple are never that simple, and there’s a lot more than that to this novelette — which, by the way, is available as preorder until its 27th July 2016 release, and of course as an instant purchase after that at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Google Play Books.

It’s about learning to see past the context of your time and place in history, learning to see what in your society helps and what holds you back, about a woman going hand-to-hand with caveman tech just to see if she can.

I posted more about it in an earlier post.

I also wrote a short description that appears where it is sold: “Angela’s world is automated — the cars drive themselves. Houses and tablets and phones are always listening to tell you how to do things and warn you against things you’re not supposed to do. When she and her boyfriend inherit an old-style manual-drive car, it inspires her to try to master it — and to realize how little a person actually controls in a technological,automated world.”

And I think you should buy a copy because I enjoyed the hell out of finishing it and loved seeing how it ended — I think that enjoyment and love shines through in the finished product.

Thanks.

[Also, just so you know, over on Patreon my patrons got a free copy a few days ago (and you can still get one by becoming a patron and scrolling down to the post and downloading your preferred format) — not only did they not have to wait for the preorder to release, but they also didn’t have to pay. Good deal, no?]

Thirteen Word Story: Playing God

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(This post first appeared on my Patreon page on 04 FEB 2016 — you can see my posts before anyone else by becoming a patron, even for a single buck per month! Plus you get a free PDF of any short story I publish THIRTY DAYS before anyone else, even if I charge for the ebook!)

 

The story on the image (and please feel free to save and share the image as you’d like) is a take on the venerable Frankenstein story, which is a take on the infinitely more venerable Golem story, which is probably even older than the tale of the Garden of Eden, maybe even older than the tale of Prometheus.

 

At their roots, they’re all the same story. The thing we create or wish for takes on a life and will of its own. Perhaps for good, perhaps for ill, most often for both — the story of the Monkey Paw, the wish that takes an unexpected and usually detrimental turn, goes hand in hand with the Golem.

 

As I’ve written it, my story gathers in a few social trends, both US and worldwide. The first and most popular is sex. Itself it’s not exactly a “trend” — people have been having sex for quite a while, I hear. The integration of technology with sex has taken on a life of its own, however, even though it dates back thousands of years to the discovery of the dildo. There’s something called “teledildonics” that has been knocking around for a decade or so — remote sexual contact, sex via computer. Combine that with AI, robotics, and the “RealDoll”, a full-sized realistic artificial human form usually but not exclusively built for sex, you can figure it’s only a matter of time before humans are having sex with androids.

 

As for how an android might impregnate an android — well, that’s up to your imagination. But for many a desired outcome of a sexual relationship is progeny, and where there’s a will a way is often eventually invented.