Friday, September 8, 2017

The Secret Life of Bots, by Suzanne Palmer

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(SF Adventure) The ship hadn’t activated Bot 9 in a long time—it’s an unstable model—but in a desperate situation it needs all its resources. And how much trouble can it get into hunting down a rat? (8,975 words; Time: 29m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Fascinating, Gripping, and Fun

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 132, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The Bot POV and the Captain’s POV dovetail beautifully. Each one gives us just a bit more information about the mission, making things look darker and more desperate each time.

The hunt for the ratbug combines tension and amusement. We aren’t sure Bot 9 is able to take down the ratbug, but we’re also worried about the “instability” problem. But the dialogue between Bot 9 and the rest of the bots is hilarious. E.g. “We all wish you great and quick success, despite your outdated and primitive manufacture.”

The conclusion is clever: Bot 9 was designed to innovate based on inputs, and the web spun by the ratbug gives it the idea that saves the day.

Con: Ship is effectively a human character. There’s no way it would disregard the Captain’s order to destroy Bot 9. It’s also hard to believe Ship didn’t regularly monitor the botnet.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 132)
Suzanne Palmer Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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10 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I'm shocked, I tell you...

    You're usually pretty unforgiving about nonsensical AI, and this story had really nonsensical AI.

    You're not going soft on us, are you?

    1. I gave a lot of thought as to why this one worked for me. I think it helps a lot that the tone is so light.

  2. Super cute! Although I did wonder what was up with the ratbug and the mysterious aliens.

  3. I agree with the rating of 5. I love it !!!

    Bot 9 is adorable, and very practical.

    Bot 9 has programming which permits it to be innovative in order to do its job. This is different to 'emotions' which may not help in a crisis situation, and the whole situation was a crisis, as we eventually found out.

  4. Story, characters, and humor combine into a great story. I could see this being adapted into a Pixar cartoon.

    Personally, I didn't mind the goofy AI, but I did think the ending was a little unclear. I'm not entirely sure how the heroes saved the day.


    1. They had the problem that they couldn't launch the positron device toward Cannonball without causing the device to detonate prematurely, not could anyone carry it there because of the heat signature being detected.

      Bot 9 got the idea of attaching a huge web of silk to it and deploying it where Cannonball would snag the silk, drag the device with it, and blow up when the jump triggered the device.

      Normal bots would never improvise like that, but given a solution that seemed likely to work, they had no problem implementing it.

      I thought of it as being a bit like the situation with NP-complete problems, where it's almost impossible to find a solution, but if someone says, "Hey, here's one!" then it's trivial for anyone else to test whether it works. Bot 9 could think outside the box. (Of course Ship does that too, but, as others have said, the AIs here are very silly.)

    2. Ah, that makes sense. I guess I misinterpreted the heat-signature explanation to mean that the positron device would explode the moment it left the ship under any conditions, so I didn't see how that jibed with Bot 9's solution.

  5. Wow! As a new SF shorts reader this story truly impressed me. Great characterisation for bots and humans and gripping storyline with ‘solution’ that I didn’t expect. Won’t surprise me if this got a Pixar or Netflix adaptation 👍🏼

    Only con for me is that it’s kinda odd to have every single little bots be autonomous and the ship not having absolute control or override

  6. Now there is a sequel: