Blog Archives

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!

Advertisements