Ken Liu is a gifted writer that has a talent for combining hard science fiction concepts with human emotions in beautiful written stories. This story from 2004 is among his best.
The story follows Elena who is a genius with robotics and language algorithms. She has created a very lifelike robotic doll that is both able to speak almost fluently and has very advanced motoring skill. The doll quickly becomes immensely popular and the company she works for has trouble keeping up with demand. She partners up with Brad, the CEO of the company, and she gets pregnant. Sadly, they lose the child during pregnancy and Elena is unable to get pregnant again. This emotionally devastates Elena and she buries herself in working on a new robotic doll, this time one that resembles a newborn. That too becomes a product sold by the company, with mostly other grieving mothers as customers.
As the story progresses, Elena becomes more and more obsessed with her creations. Working so intense with especially the speaking algorithms, she starts to view the real world in the same algorithmic terms. She knows how her own algorithms work and that everything they produce are mathematically predictable, which she increasingly believe is also true for human behaviour. Basically her worldview breaks down as she questions whether human are even conscious or any different from the artificial intelligence she has created. That everything we do is inherently deterministic. There are some direct references to the Chinese Room argument on the matter.
Liu manages to weave all these philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness into a very beautiful written short story, that has the technology used described in a plausible way while still keeping focus on the human emotions and making them engaging and believable for the reader.
Read in Twenty-First Century Science Fiction Originally published on strangehorizons.com Rating: 5
This was a real positive surprise. At first I was a bit weary with yet another AI robot human relationship story. 2021 and 2022 has had too many stories with that sort of theme. This story reconfirms my opinion that the best AI robot stories are at least 10 years behind us, even though it is immensely popular now.
We follow Adriana and her relationship with the android Lucien she has bought for companionship. During their together Lucien develops his own personality and they also end up having a child. The plot is minimal, the important stuff is in the development of these three characters and their feelings for each other – especially as Lucien develops more free will. Hence the title of the story with the different types of love.
What I think works exceptionally well here is how it is told with various jumps back and forward in time. We know the outcome, or at least hints of it, but not why or how yet. Even in a relatively short story, the author manages to show us the developments of three personalities at once. The point of view is mostly for Adriana, but the childs and Luciens character development is equally important.
Read in Twenty-First Century Science Fiction Read online at Tor.com Rating: 4
This novella is about genemods which Kress more or less made her writing career on. In this story gene modifications are still in the early stages, but a rogue group have successfully modified babies with a gene that make them more empathic. What I found interesting with this story is the perspective it is told from. Not directly from those involved with the gene modifications, but here from a manager of an actress preparing for her role in a movie about the first kids with this empathic gene. This is what Kress does best with these kind of stories, telling it from a more indirect angle. Following the consequences of new developments in research rather than the actual inventions. As the story goes, the manager and the actress gets more directly involved as things spiral out of control.
Even though the story is well written and the plot flow nicely, I did feel like some parts of the stories were a little constructed. Like the main character is a dwarf and has a broken relationship in the past involving a non-dwarf kid. All this of course makes a nice parallel to the gene modifications that are central to the story, but it is also a bit too neat.
Read in Galaxy’s Edge July & September 2022 Originally published in Asimov’s March 2009 ISFDB Link Rating: 3+