Monday, July 30, 2018

The Expert System's Brother, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

[Tor Novella]
★★★★☆ A fascinating world and a plot with lots of twists and turns

(Lost Colony SF Western) Young Handry’s life changes forever when he’s accidentally soaked in a “severing” mixture, which alienates him from the people in his village. (37,449 words; Time: 2h:04m)

"The Expert System's Brother," by , published on by .

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

Pro: On the surface, at least, this is a coming-of-age novel, in which Handry matures to the point where he takes charge of his own life. He does some bad things along the way, but through everything that happens to him, he continues to be a good person at heart.

It’s interesting to look at the steps he goes through:
  • At the beginning, he’s like anyone else in the village, following the “ghosts” unquestioningly. 
  • The accident with the severing mixture forces him to be more self-reliant, so by the time he’s forced into exile, he’s got at least some hope of survival, albeit as a wandering thief.
  • Orovo makes for a nice break, hinting that things could be a lot better if he just had the secret of making food he could eat. 
  • Sharskin’s offer of a better world, and the revelation of the original space ship, initially seem very hopeful, but it gradually becomes clear that Sharskin is just using him. 
  • Handry’s realization that Sharskin wants everyone to serve him the way people in the villages serve the ghosts marks the point where Handry comes into his own.
The interactions between Melory and the “Ancestors” are instructive. Sharskin clearly thinks the talk of “upgrades” are about upgrading Melory, but she really represents the “new version” they’re talking about. It’s very satisfying when we realize she’s in charge, not him.

It ends on a hopeful note. They won’t be trying to “sever” everyone—that makes no sense, given the incompatibility of baseline humans with this world—but they do seem to stand a good chance of putting people back in charge of their software, and that promises a brighter future.

Con: It’s hard to see why none of the systems could reverse the severance. They had the software that made the original modifications, so why couldn’t they do it again? And removing a stain from the skin ought to be trivial compared to what they did to give “ghost sight” to people.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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