Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cold Blue Sky, by JE Bates

★★★★☆ Thrilling, Disturbing, and Ultimately Thought-Provoking

(SF Mystery) Cyber-terrorists used Aki, a humanoid robot, for their attack on Sentionics Corp, and now the police need to figure out what they did and how they did it. (3,997 words; Time: 13m)

"Cold Blue Sky," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 108, published on .

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

Pro: It’s a very cool twist that Aki was set up to infiltrate the police networks.

There’s quite an irony that the terrorists claim to be acting on behalf of AIs and yet they don’t hesitate to abuse Aki (not to mention destroying who knows how many AIs in the Sentionics plant).

It is very plausible that an AI might operate on this level--good enough to make people think it was intelligent without it actually being intelligent in any meaningful way.

It's also plausible that the sort of person who could mount a devastating attack would be a former insider who knew where the weak points were.

Con: The idea that some bit of memory survives in the AI even after the memory has been purged moves this from SF to fantasy.

For anyone who has actually worked on AI, this is profoundly disturbing.

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4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I had the same initial thought about the memory persistence because it's presented without comment but later it would seem that, though her physical instance's memory was wiped, a copy was stored on the cloud and re-downloaded by a trigger phrase. (The companies and cops should be aware of this kind of thing, though, of course.)

    My problem with (or an additional appreciation of) the story relates to the first-person present-tense narration and the ending. Given the cloud thing, it would seem that she was once again wrecked and possibly rendered bodiless but still persists on the cloud (and has been presumably reactivated later) which makes the narrative approach work better (because her first-person-ness persists and she's effectively immortal, so past and future might mean less - though it should still be in past tense) but the emotional flow and line about "severing" (or whatever it was) would seem to rely on us taking her to be completely destroyed, in which case the narrative approach doesn't work *at all*.

    How did the narrative approach strike you and how did you read the ending? (Am I just being dense here?)

    Anyway - oddly, regardless of the absolute values of the numbers, it looks like, if we ordered these stories #1-5, we'd draw up the exact same lists.

    1. I have no problems with different narrative tenses and POVs. I easily "flow" into stories with 1st, 3rd, or even 2nd-person narrators, and likewise have no trouble with simple present or simple past. I read novels in Spanish, French, and Italian, all of which will actually switch into the simple present just to give a scene more urgency. (That takes some getting used to.)

      I think I've seen at least one story with a first-person narrator in which the story related the narrator's death. It didn't strike me just how weird that was until a few minutes after I'd finished the story.

      That may be because a lot of stories with a limited third-person narrator "zoom-in" in the first paragraph or two and "zoom-out" at the end. That is, while most of the story is limited to the perceptions and thoughts of a single character, the rules are loosened for the first and final paragraphs/scenes. That's not usually true for a 1st-person narrator, but it might explain why I was able to just go with it, at least for long enough to finish the story.

      The strongest feeling I got was that I felt very sorry for the people who worked for the company who saw all their hard work destroyed by a few nut cases.

    2. Okay, thanks for your perspective. I don't read novels in Spanish, French, or Italian, so maybe that's why I don't flow with that very well at all. (Would be interesting to analyze why it's so much more obtrusive in some cases than in others, though.)

    3. Sometimes I think we can psych ourselves out. E.g. if you decide that adverbs are bad just because you read one article that made that claim, it may ruin the next couple of stories you read because you keep looking for (and finding) adverbs. I've come around to thinking reviewers can't afford to have pet peeves. Not at this low a level, anyway.

      I suspect few readers pay much attention to the tense and person of a story. Actually, second-person probably does cause a few problems, but even there, I think most will grumble a bit, get into the story, and completely forget about it. That's why I never mention it in my reviews.

      Unexpected POV changes, on the other hand, do pop readers out of the story. Objecting to "head hopping" is not just a pet peeve. :-)