Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Machina, by Fran Wilde (author), Fran Wilde, Malka Older (author), Curtis C. Chen (author), Martha Wells (author). Natalie Naudus (narrator)

Serial Box, January 2020

In this near-future Earth, climate change and other disasters, possibly related, are rendering the planet less and less habitable, and a race is on to get to Mars. But this races isn't just to build rockets powerful enough to get there. Right now, it's a race among tech companies to build an AI that can carry out the first stages of terraforming and building working human habitats on Mars.

Devlok was founded by several college students fleeing a series of disasters near their school. Trey, Stephanie, Lakshmi, and Smits create a company aimed at creating an AI that can help humans colonize Mars.

Watchover is founded by Stephanie and Lakshmi after Smits resigns because progressive disability plus Trey's high-handed, egotistical abuse becomes the last straw--for him and for the two women. Other Devlok employees go with them; Smits was hardly alone in being a target of Trey's abuse. Eighteen months later, the two companies are the leading competitors among the six that have qualified for the government competition for building the first colony on Mars.
Both companies have a truly kickass AI, designed along very different principles. Trey wants absolute control, top-down decision-making. He wants no surprises from his AI. Watchover's approach values flexibility, the ability of the AI to make decisions when communication is cut off or something happens that needs response faster than scientists on Earth would be able to respond.

Both approaches have obvious advantages, and obvious dangers.

The two companies are located not far apart, in the desert, with not a lot else near them. Smits, who owns the Airstream RV they escaped the disaster in, has made it into a bar, the Moonshot, that provides neutral territory for the techies and other employees of both companies. He also has a dog--a discarded Boston Dynamics robotic dog, whom he rescued from a discard pile, repaired, modified, and named Pseudo.

It's at the Moonshot that we get to see interaction among members of the two teams, and some of the character development. It is, for instance, where two characters, members of the opposing teams, meet and find romance. Other action takes place at the respective companies, where we see that all of these characters are flawed, but in different ways--and to different extremes. Further adding to the liveliness is a journalist, embedded with Devlok, named Hiro, who is a real tech geek. At first he seems like just an "anything for the story" guy, but we get to know him, too, and he becomes an interesting enhancement of the story.

This is from Serial Box, and the story is very much in serial format. I find this enjoyable; it makes for nicely timed segments for when I'm out driving.


I got this audiobook serial as part of Serial Box's Thursday night "free for four days" program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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