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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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Overheard Through an Apartment Wall in a City Orbiting Jupiter

juno_160701

This is a little flash story I cobbled together while feeling adventurous about format and framing of stories. And, as usual, about the future. It seemed fitting to post it following the arrival of the Juno craft at Jupiter.

Hopefully the WordPress text editor won’t make too much of a hash of it — I’ll do my best to keep it looking like it’s supposed to.

This story first appeared as a patron-exclusive post on my Patreon page on July 5th — patrons see most posts 3 days early, stories 30 days early, get free ebooks whenever I publish a new one, and random exclusive stuff on occasion when I come up with something I think my patrons would like.

Help me move the hell out of the trailer park (no, seriously, I live in a goddamn trailer park and I’m NOT a fan of it) by becoming a patron, or buying an ebook or two.

 

 

Overheard Through an Apartment Wall in a City Orbiting Jupiter

 

 

At first he was speaking quietly

 

‘snot like it’s a new thing. People say, they say to me, hey, you’re thirteen hundred years old, man, of course you’ve forgotten best friends and lovers and all that shit shortlifers kill themselves over. But to you, hey, what’s all that? It’s no big, that’s what. It all spins around, you’ve got an age in Pluto years, man, and all we pygmies under three digits are like just dust swirlin’ ’round in the bright lightsocket, yeah.

 

 

but as he spoke his voice became louder

 

But what do those people know? They know nothin’. Nothin.

 

 

and I heard glass breaking

 

They think it’s cool, forgetting best buds and how we became so, just burnt out of there like a synapse forest fire, forgetting lovers, wives, husbands, even kids? To forget them and never remember ’til you read on a newsite how they died saving six people from decompression mapping out mineral deposits in the greasy guts of Orcus or they’re a loved great-times-six grandmother survived by who knows how many hundreds and you can’t remember her name until it says what it was in the obituary? And it’s not the years, it’s not the years, there are still a couple hundred of us in the first wave of the bioimmortal and far as I know all the rest all the damn rest still remember who’s important, hell, most of the most important to all of us are all the rest of the first wave, but

 

 

followed by a sob

 

oh I don’t know. Maybe they’re like me, just like me, maybe that’s how we get this old, throwing off dead leaf memories in the fall like the trees in the north when the winds start coming cold. How would I know. Dont’ talk to one of them. The years don’t make me forget. They never made me forget. I remember Tinisia, I can remember her a thousand years away, tiny little thing, graceful, her making coffee was a ballet, I remember her name and how she laughed and the smell of her skin in the morning after and last I heard she headed out in a whole hollowed-out asteroid balloon full of longlifers to see what’s around what star I can’t remember but they thought it might have two or even three Earths worth living on around it, big fat red simmering campfire with a Goldilocks the size of half a Solar system. Take them ten thousand years or maybe twenty and odds are I’ll be here to hear and not remember a damn thing I can’t forget Tinisia or

 

 

and I strained to hear another voice but there was only his growing softer again

 

But the rest, the rest, my own daughters, my own sons, they have no names any more and some of them are still alive out there and I don’t know

 

 

in a steady stream of words. If someone else had been there, I never would have known.

 

and I should know. I don’t know. If friends and family are what life is about then fuck them I’ve never lived or maybe I did but I’m not now and that’s bull, I have lived, I do live, I don’t need

 

 

Even when he wasn’t speaking, I heard faint sobbing. He never stopped speaking or sobbing. Not until

 

don’t need I don’t need shit.

 

 

the end when I heard footsteps

 

Ah, I sound like a brat baby fifty years old just figurin’ it out thumb in mouth. Was I fifty? Must have been, got here. ‘magine what it was for people in the old days, old west when the data roamed wild and free under the blue sky and never past the moon, takes a hundred years just to figure out how it all works, how all the things and people go together and bounce ’round and most all of it doesn’t matter a damn ‘cept if it makes you all happy right that moment, most all of it, who cares, nobody cares, not worth rememberin’ but worth it in the moment, and it all goes ’round, ’round, ’round, and much under a hundred it don’t make no sense but ’round then you figure it all out and the world starts to sorta work in a way you can get

 

 

and the door opened

 

my dad, what was his name, Chuck or Chas or Channing or Cher, a C-word, that was him, doesn’t matter his name he was a damn baby and died, fifty years old didn’t have time to know he didn’t know, and how old was I you expect me to know what happened when I was a snotnosed brat? Didn’t know anything then. Wasn’t nobody worth remembering.

 

 

and he paused

 

Not him, not me. Not who knows how many billions. Nobody knows.

 

 

and the door closed. I only heard a few more words.

 

Can you imagine what the world was like, when everyone died before they had time to figure out what it was all about? Wish I could ask

 

 

 

END