“The Next Scene” by Robert Reed
Reviewed by Seraph
“The Next Scene” by Robert Reed
There is very little resembling a post-apocalyptic landscape in this story, which reads with a striking similarity to some of Asimov’s works. The focus is narrow, an individual perspective of a time after Artificial Intelligence has overthrown mankind. It is a genuine apocalypse, but not in the sense you usually see. This time, it is the death not of a planet, but of free will and human purpose. Humanity as a race, as a species, is not endangered as a population. The danger comes in the form of The Silence, not radiation or warfare. As abruptly as the AIs took over, they retreated, leaving behind only the promise of their presence and payments. In a lot of ways, the society seems almost utopian, with no need to work, food and housing provided for, and so few concerns of crime or violence that a young woman has no worries while flirting and acting out her scenes in the nude. Scenes are what she calls her “job,” a way of earning more money from the seemingly voyeuristic AIs, who are fascinated by the complexities and organic life. The real loss is any sense of morality, of individual responsibility, or even human decency. People are just actors living out scenarios for the robot overlords, with no expectation of privacy. It is a chilling reminder of what happens when you remove all consequences from human behavior, and reward people for “interesting” behavior. It reduces the complexity of human behavior and interaction to a Pavlovian level of simplicity, which to me is a far more terrifying prospect than any war. I think the story is well-written and insightful. It shows an understanding of human psychology, if on a basic level. I don’t think it is ground-breaking, or overly original, but that is not a black mark really. My only complaint is that is too short! I wanted more, and I think so much more could have been done with it.
“One Sister, Two Sisters, Three” by James Patrick Kelly
I was intrigued at first by this story. Set on Earth, long after humanity has moved on to the reaches of space, Earth has become an ancient Holy site, worshipping the sacred geometry. Humanity has long moved on scientifically, and has not only developed the technology for what amounts to immortality, but also time travel. References to the “Exotics” and the “Thousand Worlds” indicated many worlds and peoples beyond our own, and the possibilities seemed endless. When the plot revealed a sisterly quarrel fueled by jealousy and envy, I was disappointed a bit. Don’t make any mistake, this story is unrushed, well-written, and meticulously detailed. It’s a beautiful picture of the familial relationship, through tragedy and loss, and transcending both time and death. There are elements of redemption, forgiveness, and remorse. My objection here is that the full potential of this story was missed. It’s still well worth reading, for the journey it portrays, if nothing else.
“Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home” by Genevieve Valentine
This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. It not only categorizes the dangers of fully-immersive VR, and by extension those of excessive gaming, but of the abuses that can occur where there is little prison oversight, and unchecked corporate greed. Between getting lost in the digitally constructed world, which is so immersive as to even create false memories, and the medications given to involuntary test subjects to manipulate their minds into believing the game’s input, it’s not hard to see how Marie could no longer distinguish between reality, how she became so hopelessly addicted to the world of the game that she was willing to do anything to get back. It’s equally not difficult to see how Benjamina would become so disillusioned with the victimization for profit that she had been a part of. Even less surprising is the half-hearted media coverage, or should we say, cover-up. Most striking is the apathy of so many people who make the game break sales records, in spite of the controversy. It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.
“Rusties” by Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu
What is it to be human? What is it to love? Why do we form attachments and bonds? These questions transcend mortality, are displayed in beautiful splendor in this story. There is innocence, betrayal, love, and awakening. It is a slow awakening, that of a network of linked programs who slowly gain cognizance in response to events. The real question is, is it an awakening of a singular consciousness, as we normally associate with AI, or is it that of a group of individual ones? The evidence seems to show a group of independent minds with variable motivations, intentions, and moralities, yet still linked by a central network. The variables seem to vary as dramatically as the humans the robots interact with on a daily basis. The traffic robot “Rusty Ndege” seems to have found solace in the kindness of this one girl, and seems to care about her happiness. Yet when scorned, it responds almost immediately by aping the other homicidal Rusties, and causing a lethal wreck. It is a reminder that even though a machine may gain intelligence, and gain something resembling emotions, there is underneath it all a cold rationality, and a brutality evidenced in but a moment. It is a sobering testament to the fact that no matter how human a machine may seem, it is not at all human. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and heartily recommend it.
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