This is the fifth review of the 2015 Nebula Award nominees for best short story. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.
As soon as I read the first sentence of Nebula short story nominee “Madeleine” –“Madeleine remembers being a different person.”–alarm bells sounded in my head. The voice is almost passive, it’s tight third person, and it’s a story about self reflection. Ugh. But I had enough faith in author Amal El-Mohtar to persevere, and I’m glad I did.
Madeleine is the child of a woman who is robbed of her memories and herself by Alzheimers. Bereft of family or close friends, Madeleine is nearly undone by grief after her mother’s death and foolishly agrees to participate in a clinical trial for a drug, which, she believes, has caused her to have incapacitating flashbacks. We see her battling the insistent logic of a psychologist who wants Madeleine to discuss her relationship with her mother even when our main character simply wants treatment for the episodes and to protect her memories. Continue reading
This is the fourth review of the 2015 short story nominees for the Nebula Awards. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.
“Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker is the third Nebula nominated short story I’ve read this year where the main character is an AI and the story is told via first-person (ha!) narration by that AI. Who knows whether the popularity of this theme was mere chance or a reflection of the growing concern about the rise of the machines, but this AI story, like the other two, features a friendly, helpful intelligence.
In “Today I am Paul” we enter a near-future world where an embodied android provides medical support and care for an elderly woman who is losing her memory. The AI can change its appearance, depending on the degree of information downloaded about the person it’s trying to emulate. This is a comfort to the patient, Mildred, who is drifting in and out of the past and present, seeking out various loved ones to talk to. In the course of a day, the AI emulates Mildred’s son Paul, her deceased husband, her daughter in-law, and her granddaughter, but the number of people who could be emulated via the “emulation net” is limitless as long as data is available.
We are informed that this is a new feature for androids, as is this AI’s empathy subnet, which directs the AI to avoid upsetting Mildred and positively finding ways to comfort her. The two programming nets do not always calibrate. While the AI does a very convincing job of emulating her argumentative son, its empathy net warns the AI that Mildred’s anxiety is increasing, which requires the AI to resolve the competing directives. In this conflicted space, self awareness is born, and the android develops an understanding of its programming, analysis and actions that are separate from the roles it plays. Shoemaker does a good job in creating a character that is no character and any character, but what is specifically outstanding about the story is that it convincingly depicts how the AI’s consciousness seems to inevitably emerge from programming tension. Continue reading
Note: If you are worried about spoilers stop right now because I can’t promise to avoid them. This is the third review of the short story nominees for the 2015 Nebula Award. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.
Alyssa Wong’s horror story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” is bittersweet wonderful–like chewing on coffee beans dipped in white chocolate. The story begins with a bad date that flips the notion of vulnerable female on its head. We see a cute female shapeshifter suck the vilest, most horrible thoughts imaginable out of her deserving victim. Just like that, bam, Wong establishes a rock solid bond between reader and character.
This shapeshifter (called Jenny by most, but Meimei by her mom) considers herself a monster. She literally feeds on people’s thoughts, specifically their dark and negative ones, and takes on their form for a short time, which certainly helps avoid getting caught. This isn’t a split-personality story, but the character is definitely conflicted. Jenny boldly stalks her prey in Manhattan and walks out on a girl who loves her for another shapeshifter who’s even more powerful than she is. Meimei misses her father, maintains a tenuous contact with her mother in Flushing, and can’t forget the girl who loves her. Continue reading
Note: This is the second review of the 2015 Nebula Award nominees for best short story. Spanish translation by Daniela Toulemonde.
While reading “Damage” by David D. Levine, I was reminded how motifs in literature may rise and fall in popularity, but they come back in style again and again because there is a fan base that gets something important from that type of story. And that “something” is what I was looking for while reading this story about the tormented inner life of a spaceship designed for war.
The story unfolds over a couple of weeks where this AI-operated ship narrates its experiences in a simulations, repairs and a couple of battles. Readers get the barest description of a war between a human rebel group at a space base and humans representing Earth’s government. We learn the war has reached the final stages with bitter costs on both sides, when the ship, called Scraps, is informed it will be carrying out a secret, final mission for the rebels.
Rebuilt from two damaged ships, Scraps differs from other Frankenstein-like monsters because of its memories of the earlier ships, including its two deaths in battle, and because it has been programmed to be loyal to its pilot. Memory, however, complicates loyalty, and that creates the story’s tension.
The secondary characters, Commander Ziegler and Specialist Toman, are the only two humans who interact directly with Scraps, but they are barely more than types created to serve the story’s architecture. I appreciated Levine’s inversion of roles–where the ship appears to be developing human reasoning and morality and the humans appear to be devolving into non-thinking machines. Still, in my opinion, the story could have as easily been told by a morally conflicted human co-pilot.