Short Story Review: “Today I Am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker

Today I Am PaulToday I Am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dementia is heartbreaking to watch in a loved one and incredibly hard to fully comprehend. However, this beautiful and amazing tale forces the issue by confronting and analyzing an elderly woman’s growing dementia and the reactions of those around her.

A high-end medical android gains sentience as it’s designed to empathize with its Alzheimer’s stricken patient, Mildred, and emulate whomever she mistakes the android to be at any given hour. Sometimes, it intuitively becomes whomever she needs it to be at any given point, such as her husband who passed away two years ago. Mildred has no memory of that loss, nor of her 5 y.o. granddaughter that comes to visit. Her older granddaughter Anna is also commonly emulated by the droid. Most often, the droid portrays Mildred’s son [and Anna’s father], Paul:

This morning she imagines Paul, so that is who I am.

Synthesizing Paul’s voice is the easiest part, thanks to the multimodal dynamic speakers in my throat. “Good morning, Ma. I brought you some flowers.” I always bring flowers. Mildred appreciates them no matter whom I am emulating. The flowers make her smile during 87% of my “visits.”

“Oh, thank you,” Mildred says, “you’re such a good son.”

Things get trickier when Paul or his wife Susan come around as the droid tries to make everyone calm and happy. But with such a charged situation, the challenge is daunting. Even more challenging, is when a fire breaks out on the lower level of the house–especially with Mildred wary of strangers, the outdoors and emergencies . . .

This story is heartbreaking in its honesty and poignant in its telling as most anyone who’s lived with a loved one struggling with dementia will recognize. This tale is highly recommended.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Unrefined”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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