This story felt a bit like the classic nuclear scare stories from the 50s updated to the 21st century.
In some undetermined future destroyed by what I would assume was a nuclear war, a group of humans approaches a missile silo base station still in operation. It is operated by an AI and the story is told from its perspective in second person (which was bit of a weird choice in my opinion, but it didn’t detract from the experience).
The humans are seeking food and shelter and the silo can provide it – on one condition. It needs a human operator to fulfill its ultimate purpose: launch the missile towards the enemy. The humans are not really keen on that, thinking the world have seen enough death. They do agree to postpone the issue a month while the humans are allowed to get settled in the silo base. As the story moves forward, the AI running the silo starts having doubts on its programmed purpose in “life”.
I don’t know if the author was inspired by the classic Theodore Sturgeon story “Thunder and Roses”, but it many ways it reminded me of that story – though not as grim.
Read in Clarkesworld February 2023
This novelette has a bit of an unusual setting. The story takes place entirely in a Buddhist monastery and follows a robot that seeks to achieve enlightenment as a monk.
The robot called Raz is a cataloging robot specially built to absorb and catalogue books. Its previous function turned obsolete, so it sought out the monastery by itself. After some debate between the monks, the robot is accepted in the community as an equal. Not without issues though. Especially one other monk is very adamant that spiritual enlightenment is only for humans and a soul-less unconscious machine should not be allowed.
This simple but effective setup creates a story with lots of philosophical debate about sentience, free will and spiritual topics. A theme that has been explored in countless science fiction stories, and while I haven’t seen one that took place in a religious setting like here, there isn’t much new to add.
While the story is easy to follow and reasonably engaging, I was thinking of the classic Star Trek TNG episode “The Measure Of A Man” which deals with lots of the same questions and uses the same type of conflict to setup the arguments for and against – and ultimately does it better.
Read in Analog January/February 2013
One of the great things about going back to older issues of a magazine is when you read a great story that you would otherwise have missed, because it hasn’t been reprinted much. This time travel novella is one such story.
The setup of this story could almost have come out of the same magazine in the 1930s. Jonas is the typical mad scientist. He is working alone because his fellow researchers at the university have turned their back on him and his unorthodox interests. He is claiming to be very close to discovering time travel. He needs an assistant at his lab and along comes Peter, an ex-convict willing to accept the low paying job but with full accommodation at the scientists’ lab.
The version of time travel that Jonas invents is the one where it is possible to send objects back in time. But only if there is a compatible receiver running in that time. Neatly explaining why no time travelers from the future have been seen yet. In all this, Peter is doing his job as a general handyman while being equally intrigued and perplexed by what is going on. He becomes somewhat friends with Jonas and they go through the usual motions of discussing all the well known paradoxes of time travel.
As the story moves forward and Jonas successfully manages to get messages from his future self – with some good stock tips among other things – Peter becomes increasingly worried about the consequences of trying to change the course of history. Butterfly effect and all that.
While the story starts kinda light, the tone gets progressively darker. The stakes are ramped up and the cascading effects of messing with time lines become harder to ignore. While this story doesn’t do much new with how it deals with time travel paradoxes, it handles them well and understandable. The author is aware that the typical Analog reader likely knows the genre well enough, and he uses that to take what might seem at first to be the usual route for time travel stories, but the ending was something different – and quite moving I might add. Very much recommended.
Read in Analog January/February 2013