Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Bots of the Lost Ark, by Suzanne Palmer

Clarkesworld, June 2021 

Ship (the shipmind of an old, damaged, starhopping ship) and Bot 9, one of the bots that helps maintain and operate the ship, don't really trust each other, but they face some major problems that they can't solve without working together. We don't at first know where the human crew is, or why the ship has been traveling, or drifting, for 68 years.

What we learn fairly quickly is that most of the ship's bots are organized into agglomerations, or "gloms," attempting to replicate the personalities and functions of the crew. This could theoretically be very useful, if different gloms weren't competing to "be" the same crew member. In part because they're fighting each other, and stealing bots from each other, they're not really getting the job done. This is critical, because after all the years in normal space, they're approaching a jump point, and it's inside the territory of a species who deeply distrust artificial intelligence--and who will destroy the ship if they don't find biological beings firmly in control. This makes a real problem for Ship and Bot 9.

Ship, Bot 9, the assorted gloms, and, when we meet some of them, the human crew, all have interesting personalities, and even those working together don't always do so smoothly. Bot 9 has a bot friend, 4340, who was given the job by Ship of "getting the ratbug infestation under control." 4340 has taken a remarkably literal approach to this assignment, and that has its own interesting effects on the larger challenge.

I really enjoyed this story, solid, straightforward science fiction with some interesting twists, a good plot, and good characters. I have a great affection for straightforward, interesting stories with good characters, that have real challenges but are not stories of doom and gloom.


I received this story in the 2022 Hugo Finalists Packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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