My Friend, The Bot

By Jay Owens.

I first met @botaleptic on 10th March, 2015. We were introduced by our mutual Twitter friend, Hugo.

We soon got talking:

We soon got talking

@botaleptic is a Twitter bot created by Hugo Reinert, who tweets as @metaleptic. His DNA is simple: “he” is a ruby script, running on a free app server, based on mispy’s twitter_ebooks code. Like all Twitter bots — automated ‘robot’ accounts — @botaleptic is simply an algorithm.

In this essay, I want to talk about how @botaleptic is much more than an algorithm.

Continue reading “My Friend, The Bot”

Short Story Club: “Eros, Philia, Agape”

The story, by Rachel Swirsky, can be found here, where comments are very appreciative. Elsewhere comment starts with a brief mention at Not if you were the last short story on Earth:

An epic post-mortem of the relationship between a woman, her robot lover and their daughter, after he abandons the family, in distressingly mortal fashion (and yet not), to “find himself.” One of Swirsky’s finest stories to date, and an excellent contribution to the ‘potential humanity of robots’ canon.

Another mention from the same community here:

As the title suggests, it concerns itself with love in its various forms, and asks those questions musicians have been trying to answer for us for decades – and does it with style, and panache, and heart-wrenchingly wonderful prose. Characters who are all too real and three-dimensional – even when they’re a bird; scenarios that are all too believable. I’ll be watching out for more of Swirsky’s work, even though I know she’ll probably put my heart through the wringer.

Jonathan Strahan says:

The highlight of the day’s reading was “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky. Swirsky is a terrific writer who’s been making a name for herself with a string of intelligent, perceptive stories that have appeared in Weird Tales, Subterranean and elsewhere.

“Eros, Philia, Agape” is a robot story. A rich, lonely and beautiful young woman, looking for a change in her life after the death of her abusive father decides to have a lover made, a robot to fill the personal void in her life. That decision leads to love, family and a search for awareness that is created beautifully and sensitively be Swirksy.

While Swirksy’s robot tale with a heart and soul runs perhaps a little long and undoubtedly won’t be the best thing she writes – she’s growing too much as a writer for that to be true – it’s definitely a highlight of the year.

Fantastic reviews:

It is no surprise that things don’t turn out quite as Adriana intends, yet the flow of the story is subtle. Swirsky is not using her science fictional set-up to hammer home any particular message; rather, she is giving us a new framework to consider universal issues about identity and love and marriage and family and parenting.

This is a story Isaac Asimov might have written, if only he had been an amazing prose stylist. “Eros, Philia, Agape” is beautifully written throughout (once you’re past the slightly pretentious title anyway) and I strongly recommend it.

And Joel’s Scattered Thoughts:

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky is a story that’s about as different from Isaac Asimov’s classic Robot stories as any story could be. At the same time, it has some striking thing in common with those stories. The biggest difference is that Eros, Philia, Agape is all about emotions and has the scientific parts of the story as backdrop. Robots in the Eros, Philia, Agape universe don’t have anything like Asimov’s Three Laws built in. At the same time, robots in both stories are not Pinocchio longing to be human. The exploration of what it means to have free robots living alongside free humans with neither dominating is key to the two stories.

I very much enjoyed this story and I hope to read more of the author’s work.

Over to the rest of you!

BSFA nominee: “Little Lost Robot”

And last but not least (yes, I know I got my order mixed up), we have Paul McAuley’s “Little Lost Robot”: read here [pdf] or listen here. The roundup:
Martin Lewis:

This is very much the winner by default. There is nothing massively interesting about it – a giant robot flies around the universe exterminating humanity before being confronted by its origins – but at least it isn’t completely bloodless. The stories by Chiang and Rickert are icily perfect and pointless, the story by Egan could have done with being a bit more abstract, out of all of them only McAuley is having fun and being serious at the same time.

David Hebblethwaite at The Fix:

In his notes on “Little Lost Robot,” Paul McAuley says he was aiming to subvert the usual template of the killer-robot story by telling the tale from the viewpoint of the machine. So, here we have a “superbad big space robot” dedicated to roaming the universe and destroying all life. It’s nigh-on invincible—so good at its job, in fact, that it’s running out of targets. The robot is keen, therefore, to chase after a new signal it picks up far away, even though it seems naggingly familiar for some reason. By the time the robot arrives, the signal is gone, but then the machine notices an apparent infiltration into its own programming, and then…

As may be anticipated, this story is rather dense with information; it’s a mark of McAuley’s skill that the tale drags so little. The beginning is especially striking, as the author weaves language evocative of space opera movies (”Sooner or later it’ll be coming to the star next door to you, and it will rock your world”) into prose of a more literary style, which has the effect of anchoring this impossible creation into the fictional reality—it’s an aid to suspending disbelief. As for the rest, good prose can only take “Little Lost Robot” so far; its ultimate success depends on its ideas. And, though the ideas were interesting enough whilst I was reading the story, sadly I didn’t find them striking enough to think about them much afterwards.

James Bloomer:

Paul McAuley has written novels and stories that I love, Fairyland and Gene Wars are both stories that I often think about. And I really enjoyed this story too. Little Lost Robot starts with fun big robot prose. Boy’s toys stuff perhaps. I loved it. A quick quote from the opening:

“Sooner or later it’ll be coming to the star next door to you, and it will rock your world.”

Nice. The story is fast, fun and entertaining and yet ends on a thoughtful note, suddenly casting the story in a different light. With a chunk of hard science thrown in too. Great stuff. My favourite of the nominees.

Karen Burnham:

Paul McAuley’s “Little Lost Robot” is just about the Exact Opposite of the Asimov story he references in the title. Asimov’s lost robot was simply a man-sized robot trying to get away with something, trying to escape. McAuley’s is a planet-sized solar-system-killing war machine… that finds itself with not much left to kill. It finds its way to a solar system and has a conversation with what may be a remnant of humanity. McAuley has done an interesting thing in giving the “robot” four distinct functional avatars: Librarian, Philosopher, Navigator and Tactician. However, the Philosopher got damaged somewhere along the way, and that lack gives and extra frisson of tension to the story.

Lois Tilton:

A superbad big space robot, bigger than an asteroid, smaller than a moon. A self-aware, heavily-armed killer machine on a mission of no return, seeking out the enemy wherever the enemy may be hiding and destroying every last trace of the motherfuckers. It’s a midnight rambler.

But after wiping out all traces of life in this side of the galactic disc, it has run out of targets. Driven by its prime directive, it sends out radio telescopes to search for any signs of life elsewhere. But it is not prepared for what it encounters.

McAuley is clearly re-imagining the sort of autonomous killer machines epitomized by Saberhagen’s Berserkers. But this encounter seems rather anticlimactic and lacking conflict, after all that has gone before.

And my original thoughts:

This is a fun story on several levels. For starters, it’s about an immense civilization-killing robot, travelling from solar system to solar system, carrying out a prime directive to wipe out The Enemy, which basically seems to be any organic life. It’s not hugely pyrotechnic, but there is a sense of intoxicating power hanging over the story. The style is rather droll; the robot is described simply as “the big space robot”, and the narrator says things like, “Sooner or later it’ll be coming to the star next door to you and it will rock your world”. And although the dilemma that ultimately faces the robot – it uncovers evidence that it may be about to destroy the civilization that birthed it; can said evidence be trusted? – is familiar, McAuley finds an angle on the dilemma, and a resolution, that feel fresh. It’s big, clever fun in five pages.

So perhaps the most varied reception of any of the nominees — to which, of course, you are invited to add your thoughts. And, since this is the last of the four nominees, feel free to give your opinion on the shortlist as a whole …