Short Story Review: “Emergence” by Gwyneth Jones

2 of 5 stars.

The emergence of sentience among artificial intelligence will no doubt alter human society and human self-perception. As a gamut of AI appears, from those with holographic capabilities to others with physical bodies, and humans prolong life and cognition by inorganic and artificially organic means, the lines between humanity and AI blur–and not without the inevitable backlash.

This short story scratches the surface of many issues with an astounding breadth of vision without the heft and depth to plumb them satisfyingly. A novel would better suit the vision boldly introduced here.

Hundreds of years into space exploration, Romy–one of the oldest humans at 300 y.o.–acts as Senior Magistrate for the Jupiter Moons in the Outer Worlds. She oversees cases involving AI, especially sentient AI illicitly perpetrating defiance which is not uncommon as these immortal consciences try to self-define. Queer and Trans issues emerge as AI start to define themselves as having a body, or not, in contrast to their reality. Notably, Romy peacefully lives with 2 AI: the embodied Simon that serves and body-less Arc that holds vast stores of data.

Romy feels betrayed by her ex-lover and best friend Lei who, also being centuries old, had to return to Earth for the sake of her body. Centuries earlier when Lei had been male, Romy had been her wife bringing yet more trans and queer issues into the fold.

An accident jeopardizes Romy’s body causing her return to Earth for treatment showing the blatant cultural differences between the Outer Worlds and Earth where slavery has been re-instituted as a means of controlling AI. The treatments toward saving Romy also push her to the brink of both death and immortality . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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