Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review of Souls In Silicon

Title: Souls in Silicon: Tales of AI Confronting the Infinite
Author: Jeff Duntemann
Genre: Science fiction, short story collection
Price: $11.99
Publisher: Copperwood Press
ISBN: (not assigned yet)

Jeff Duntemann is a veteran computer writer who also works in science fiction. Over the years, he’s written a number of short stories, and he decided to combine all the computer-related shorts in this collection entitled Souls In Silicon. I for one am glad he did. It’s a slim collection, consisting of just eight stories, plus an excerpt from his (so far) only novel The Cunning Blood, but what it lacks in volume it makes up for in heft.

The lead-off story, The Steel Sonnets, is one of his earliest works, and it’s dazzling. The story is that of a robot, not programmed for emotions, which discovers one (loyalty) anyway, and acts on it. Guardian, the next story, appeared on the final Hugo ballot in 1981. That’s science fiction’s equivalent of being nominated for an Academy Award. It’s a riveting tale of a robot “granted” a soul. The robot is determined to earn it’s soul’s keep, despite the attempts of a priest to dissuade it.

The next story, Silicon Psalm, has one of the most haunting opening lines I’ve read. It starts, “At three A. M., a little girl who had no heart cried out to the darkness: ‘Maxie, it hurts! Please make it stop hurting!” The story gets more heart-tugging from there.

Borovsky’s Hollow Woman is an interesting story about the love between a man and his artificially-intelligent space suit. It’s quite engaging. This is the longest story in the book, and it’s followed by a pair of almost flash-fiction short stories, Bathtub Mary and STORMY vs. the Tornadoes, both of which are more light-hearted but entertaining pieces. The last short, Sympathy on the Loss of One of Your Legs, got its start from Jeff misreading a Hallmark card that said “Sympathy for your Loss.” Despite the downer title, it’s an uplifting little piece.

Here’s the bottom line – Jeff has compiled a very powerful set of science fiction short stories. Not only are they powerful, but they’re different. There’s not one “machine run amuck” in the lot of them. All Jeff’s machines are doing what they are doing for valid, human reasons. The sensawonder you’ll get from this collection is deep, and you’ll be thinking of these stories long after you’ve finished the book.

Rating 10/10

No comments: