- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
`A.I.s' (294 pp.) was published by Ace Books in 2004; the cover artwork is by the AXB group and Rita Frangie.
One of a large number of Ace SF and fantasy anthologies edited by the team of Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois , `A.I.s' takes as its subject matter the arrival of all-knowing computer Sentiences into human society. These Sentiences are often disembodied, and manifest themselves via holographic avatars.
More powerful than the A.I.s of `Skynet' and the `Matrix' combined, these new A.I.s often wield God-like powers.
The question is, in the aftermath of the Vinge-ian Singularity, will such A.I.s be ill-disposed towards the puny humans who birthed them..... Or will they be benevolent ?
Or even...... indifferent ?
[All of the stories in `A. I.s' were previously published, in magazines like Asimov's and Omni, during 1979 - 2003.]
The first story in the collection is Charles Stross's `Antibodies'. It's the best story in the anthology. The plot: what starts as a posting on the internet of a new theorem, however esoteric and obscure, quickly escalates into something much more revolutionary - and dangerous.
Stross is adept at taking his narrative from mundane beginnings, and moving it into genuinely `cosmic' territory, without straining belief or relying overmuch on contrivances. Only Greg Bear, with the original short story incarnation of `Blood Music', previously has made a success of this type of (very difficult) storytelling transition.
Michael Swanwick's `Trojan Horse', in contrast, is probably the least entertaining story in the collection. Set against the backdrop of a future Moon colony, `Trojan Horse' deals with a young woman and her confrontation with an increasingly Godlike A.I. Swanwick labors to use this confrontation as the centerpiece for an exploration of What It Means to Be Human, but winds up being very boring.
Robert Reed's `Birth Day' deals with suburban life in the aftermath of the Singularity; it is a short, but effective, melding of `Twilight Zone' -style humor and unease.
In Gregory Benford's `The Hydrogen Wall', the solar system is on the brink of disaster, and humanity's fate rests on deciphering a recalcitrant A.I. embedded in some SETI-type transmissions originating from elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy. A shapely young woman tries to contact the A.I. I suspect most readers will figure out where this story is going, quite early on in the narrative.
`The Turing Test', by Chris Beckett, is a social satire. It starts off by taking aim at poseur artistes like Damien Hirst, which is a good thing. I thought the plot ended on a rather inconclusive note, but readers may like the humorous tone of this story.
Steven Baxter contributes `Dante Dreams', which apparently takes as its inspiration a 1979 article in the American Journal of Physics, about interpreting Dante's 'Divine Comedy' as a treatise on multidimensional geometry. The story begins on a promising note, but quickly dissipates into a self-indulgent exposition on metaphysics.
`The Names of All the Spirits', by J. R. Dunn, deals with an AI appearing to asteroid miners working in the Kuiper-Oort clouds. The author's use of an oblique, too-clipped, prose style prevents the story from gaining much momentum.
`From the Corner of My Eye', by Alexander Glass, is about virtual AIs and a man mourning a lost love. Well-written, if predictably sentimental.
Roger Zelazny's `Halfjack', from 1979, is the Old School entry. It's less about AIs, and more about cyborgs.
Nancy Kress contributes `Computer Virus', essentially an updated version of the 1977 sci-fi movie Demon Seed. It adopts a more humanistic tenor towards its starring AI, however.
In summary, `A. I.s' has the workmanlike character of yet another anthology that stays reasonably true to its subject material, but doesn't do much else.
Unless you're a hard-core fan of this sub-genre of sf, this is not a must-have.