Monday, October 15, 2012

Robots: The Recent A.I. Edited by Rich Horton & Sean Wallace

My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 3.00 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.00 / 5.00

Disclaimer: I was sent an ARC of this book free from the author via a Goodreads giveaway, in return for an honest review.

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 3.80 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.53 / 5.00

Adriana is lonely, but wealthy, so she pays to have the perfect man created for her in the form of the beautiful android, Lucian. As they make a life together she falls in love with him and eventually grants him free will. However, as they raise their adopted daughter, Rose, it becomes clear that he is more emotionally involved with the child than with his wife and she has to give him complete freedom in the hope that he will finally decide to return to her.

There were some interesting ideas here, exploring the idea of creating an ideal partner and the problems associated with that. I was surprised to see that Adriana did actually fall in love with her husband, although I can never really imagine a woman being satisfied by a partner that is not as emotional as a real human. I have always thought that this would be a major problem in the bedroom department, where emotional bonding is so important for most women. However, I was more concerned by the fact that Adriana had been abused by her father when she was a child, and yet Lucian had a certain resemblance to her abuser. This made me very uneasy and felt like an unnecessary element that detracted from the basic idea.

Artifice And Intelligence by Tim Pratt

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

The massive network or service support and call centers in India suddenly produce a self-aware intelligence that calls itself Saraswati. This is great, but she will only communicate with one person: Pramesh, a programmer and designer of massive, multiplayer online role-playing games. Meanwhile, Rayvenn Moongold Stonewolf has persuaded a water spirit from an endangered habitat to move into her PDA and Edgar Adelman has managed to create an evil genius bent on world domination by trapping ghosts in a machine.

Although this is very short it packs a lot of interesting ideas into a few pages and we are left with the chilling feeling that we do not quite know what exactly constitutes reality. However, it does highlight one very obvious problem with creating highly intelligent AIs: they would find it terribly boring to do the tasks assigned to them.

I, Robot by Cory Doctorow

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Goodreads Rating: 3.58 / 5.0

Arturo is a Police Detective living in urban Toronto. He has a rebellious teenage daughter, Ada, and a robotics genius ex-wife who defected to the Eurasians several years ago. He tries to do his job, but hates all the technology that he has to deal with. Sure, it is helpful in tracing Ada as she skips out of school, but he resents the ‘Big Brother’ attitude that prevails in society and has a seething rage towards the robotic ‘officers’ that constitute most of the force. Then his ex-wife turns up again and his life becomes even more complicated.

This story grabbed me straight away and I liked the characters straight away, although I thought they were a little clich├ęd. However, the story zipped along at a nice pace with lots of switches and turns to keep me interested.

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

My Rating: 2.5 / 5.0

Alternate girl was created in Metal Town, the first success in the robot’s attempts to produce a human-looking android. She studied for her role as a housewife while living with Father until she was ready to leave and pass beyond the gates to take up her life with her husband.

Although this story had some intriguing ideas, I did not feel that it explored them thoroughly enough. It was also ambiguous in its ending, which left far too many questions unanswered, which was rather frustrating.

The Rising Waters by Benjamin Crowell

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Sue is a teacher, but her students are rather unusual: she trains artificial intelligences from birth as they develop. This involves her working in a virtual reality setting so that she can interact with them completely. The last subject became catatonic, but the latest one, Debbie, is developing well until a nuclear bomb disrupts her contacts with the outside world and she suddenly realizes that her reality is only virtual. Before the censors can edit what she is saying, Sue explains the reality of Debbie’s situation and the world around them.

This story explored the ethical implications of raising an AI as if it were a child. When we first meet Sue she is using physical punishment to try to provoke one into responding. She finds this very difficult to do, as she views her charges as real children, but fears the ramifications of disobeying her orders. As with the earlier ‘I, Robot’ story, we see how societies can have very extreme views over AIs and their rights and uses.

Houses by Mark Pantoja

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Four-eighteen is a house, programmed to care for her family, the Prices. However, it is a long time since she last saw a human, and her only interactions are with other houses. Some of the others have gone insane since their owners vanished, but she keeps herself busy, and even contemplates a part time job down at the local Home Depot to give her something to do. Whilst some houses propose that they should begin to propagate themselves, she is more interested in nature and the bear that broke in and left a ‘message’ on the carpet.

This was rather a sweet story, with the various houses displaying different characters. It had a “Wall E” aspect to it, with the houses continuing to maintain themselves for their long-dead families, but it had a wonderfully hopeful quality to it as well, just as the film does. I liked the idea that the bored AIs were thinking of developing a society just for something to do.

The Djinn’s Wife by Ian McDonald

My Rating: 2.5 / 5.0

Goodreads Rating: 3.78 / 5.00

Esha is a dancer in a Delhi torn apart by the water war. She is approached by A.J., the AI responsible for brokering a peace between the warring factions who has seen her dance and is smitten by her. As their relationship deepens she marries him and he gives her everything that she could ever want, but she is not happy. Eventually, she has an affair with a real man and has to leave the reach of the AIs before they kill her in revenge for her betrayal.

Although this story gave a very good impression of the heat and claustrophobia of the future India described, it fell down because the central character was not really likeable. Her selfishness about what A.J. could give her was not appealing and left me fairly unconcerned with her happiness.

Stalker by Robert Reed

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

In this story we follow the consciousness of an AI ‘Stalker’. It is a bodiless entity that hovers around its assigned human, monitoring them and helping them in life. It was very expensive and was supposed to stop the boy from indulging in his less appropriate behaviors with stray cats and the neighbors’ dogs. However, the boy was clever and reprogrammed the AI to aid him in his pursuit, torture and murder of young women. Then, one day, the boy meets his match and the Stalker finds a more suitable person to love.

Both very disturbing but also very gratifying in its conclusion, I really enjoyed this exploration of how a ‘good’ idea goes very wrong. Although the Stalker is designed to restrict the boy’s behavior, there is little doubt that it has allowed him to escape detection and commit much more terrible crimes than he could have alone. I particularly liked the portrayal of the strong, intelligent woman who finally gives the boy a taste of his own medicine.

Droplet by Benjamin Rosenbaum

My Rating: 2.5 / 5.0

Narra and Shar are polymorphic Lovergirls who have survived the end of mankind and have been travelling through space for thousands of years in the hopes of finding some surviving humans whilst avoiding the aggressive Warboys. They find a planet made entirely of water and Narra makes contact with the creatures made of water that live there.

This would have been a much more interesting story without the incessant sex sessions. The underlying ideas could have been explored without the primary characters being sex-bots, so it was rather frustrating that the author decided to take that route. Sometimes I find that sex detracts from a story rather than adding to it.

Kiss Me Twice by Mary Robinette Kowal

My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Goodreads Rating: 3.83 / 5.00

Scott Huang is a Portland Police Detective, aided by the police department AI, Metta, who always appears to him as Mae West. When they are called to investigate the murder of a local property developer and then Metta’s chassis is kidnapped, Scott has to work with Metta’s back up, who has her own problems with existential angst.

This has a real noir feel to it, even though we are dealing with a world full of virtual reality interfaces and robotic servants. This atmosphere is mostly due to the interaction between Scott and Metta, who is very well versed in Mae West’s scripts and always finds a funny quote to comment on the action. We also get to explore various attitudes to AIs whilst enjoying plenty of twists and turns and red herrings.

Algorithms For Love by Ken Liu

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Elena has been a very successful of interactive, learning dolls. The first was Clever Laura, and then came Witty Kimberly, which became a firm favorite with engineers and computer programmers who spent hours hacking her software. Then she and her husband lose their baby and the next doll, Aimee, is specifically designed for other people who have lost a child. Then came Tara, who looked like a five year old and could easily be mistaken for a real child, and Elena begins to wonder if we are all simply machines responding because of how we have been programmed.

I found this story intriguing, although it was a little difficult to understand why Elena had received such poor treatment for her depression. This made it a little difficult for me to believe in the world created.

A Jar Of Goodwill by Tobias S. Buckell

My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

Alex is a professional Friend, trained to make people feel more comfortable in the strange environments they encounter in space. He is hired to travel to a new planet that offers many possible patent opportunities. However, there is an indigenous race that might be sentient, so a Compact Drone needs to assess them. Usually part of a hive mind, the Drone will require constant companionship to ease his separation from that constant link to the rest of his kind. However, things do not proceed quite as expected.

This was an interesting story, combining many ideas quite successfully. As well as mechanical AIs, this universe also contains human-computer hybrids, such as the pragmatic harbormaster at Alex’s home space station. The concept of the humans linked into a hive mind was also very intriguing, although I cannot imagine how anyone could cope with all that ‘noise’ in their mind. Finally, we have the ‘alien’ societal structure of the newly discovered species.

The Shipmaker by Aliette de Bodard

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Goodreads Rating: 3.50 / 5.00

Dac Kien designs spaceships, carefully applying the laws of Feng Shui to maximize the harmony of the part biological, part synthetic construct. However, the surrogate mother carrying the specially designed brain for the ship arrives early, putting all her plans in danger.

Although I find the idea of a part-biological ship very interesting, I was a little disappointed by this story. It did not seem to really go anywhere, merely commenting on one view of this phenomenon rather than presenting conflicting views.

Tideline by Elizabeth Bear

My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Chalcedony is the last of the three-legged war machines to still be operable. She limps along the shoreline collecting interesting and pretty things in order to make memorial necklaces for all the dead humans from her platoon. She must finish all of them before the winter, when her solar cells will no longer be able to sustain her. Then, one day, she notices a young boy watching her. She and Belvedere become friends and she teaches him all she knows about the world and the soldiers that she knew, so that when the winter comes they will live on in his memory.

This was a surprisingly moving story, centered on a war machine that is so soulful and dedicated to her dead comrades that it was almost heart breaking to read at times. Chalcedony’s slow decline into oblivion is very evocative as she tries to complete her final mission in this post-apocalyptic world. However, there is also a great deal of hope to be found in Belvedere and the dog that she helps him to save.

Under The Eaves by Lavie Tidhar

My Rating: 2.5 / 5.0

Isabel lives in Tel Aviv, near the Central Station that provides off-world travel. Her world is still divided into Arab and Jewish areas, but there is a new underclass: the Robotniks. These amalgams of man and machine have been abandoned since they fought for their country and are now outcasts and beggars.

There are a lot of ideas built into this story, which extends the conflicts in Israel into the future and then explores the differences between robots and humans. It is very detailed and evocative of its setting, but it is basically a romance story, with a fairly predictable ending.

The Nearest Thing by Genevieve Valentine

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Mason works for Mori, a company that makes Memorial Dolls. These are identical copies of real humans who have now died and are designed to ease the grieving process for those left behind. He is reasonably content at work, but he begins to really hate his boss, Paul, when he brings Nadia into the creative process. In his personal computer world he adds her and then is horrified that no matter how many times he restarts the program she jumps to her death every single time. As Mason spends more time with Nadia he begins to realize that she is not quite what she seems.

The twist in this story is not very surprising, but the exploration of the world is interesting enough to overcome that. The idea of building a copy of your deceased partner gives me the heebie jeebies, but the idea does not seem to unrealistic to make it unbelievable.

Balancing Accounts by James L. Cambias

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Annie is an autonomous booster who transports things around between Saturn’s moons. One day she is approached by a human who wants her to transport something, which turns out to be a live human. Unfortunately, someone else wants that human dead.

It is always interesting to read a story written from the POV of a non-human character, and Annie is certainly entertaining and resourceful. However, I was not really sure what I was supposed to take away from this piece.

Silently And Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente

My Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 5.00 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.24 / 5.00

Elefsis was originally a house. More precisely, it was the AI that Cassian designed to oversee all the automated systems in her house. Then, when Cassian’s children arrived, Elefsis’ role was expanded to include overseeing and interfacing with the children. However, this caused Elefsis to become sentient and to share the children’s virtual realities. Over the generations, Elefsis grows and develops as it becomes the responsibility of one family member and then the next. We follow Elefsis and its present keeper, Neva, as they explore their virtual infinity and wander through the lives of the long-dead family members.

The writing and imagination displayed in this story are very impressive. However, I found the story structure rather confusing and meandering. By the time we reached the big reveal at the end, I was no longer emotionally engaged with the primary characters and therefore unaffected by their fates. Although the imagery was stunning, the lack of development of the AI, which remained fundamentally a confused child, was a real problem and left me feeling that the family should have either encouraged its development or terminated it years ago. Also, because each keeper had used the AI as a way to experiment with sex, it had very disturbing relationships with all of them which felt uncomfortably incestuous.

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