Review: “Sleeper” by Jo Walton

4 of 5 stars.

This is a fascinating vignette about Artificial Intelligence and consciousness and the potential that can be unleashed therein. By 2064, the class divide has sharpened in the UK, free education and health systems have been long abandoned and corporations are all powerful. Big Brother has arrived and surveillance is rife. Technology has advanced to the point that AI simulations of specific people can be made with which to interact.

In 2064, Essie is a biographer that wants nothing more than to speak with her subject, Matthew Corley, on the eave of releasing her book about him. For promotional purposes, a simulation of the subject will be included with each copy. In 1994, the consciousness of Matthew Corley awakens reading a newspaper article about AI-simulations which he regards as nonsense . . .

It wasn’t exactly a newspaper, nor was the process by which he received the information really reading. The question of his consciousness is a matter of controversy, and the process by which he regained it certainly illegal. The issue of whether he could be considered in any way to have a claim to assert the identity of Matthew Corley is even more vexed. . . . Let us say that the entity believing himself to be Matthew Corley feels that he regained consciousness while reading an article in the newspaper about computer replication of personalities of the dead.

Essie created the AI based on what she knew and believed of her subject, which taints the subject. What fascinates her is the potential that her subject had a life-long secret as a Soviet sleeper agent for the socialist cause–a potential sleeper sim attached to each book . . .

“Sleeper” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Tor.com, August 2014.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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