Clarkesworld #49, October 2010

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Clarkesworld #49
October 2010

“Laying the Ghost” by Eric Brown

“Salvaging Gods” by Jacques Barcia

Reviewed by Rhonda Porrett

In “Laying the Ghost” by Eric Brown, happy Ed the salvageman goes about his business in deep space. His crewmates, one a human and one an AI infused with emotions, accuse Ed of being unable to express deep feelings. He wishes the two females would stop trying to psychoanalyze him.

Ed agrees to ferry a passenger to a once peaceful world inhabited by humans—now decimated by war with an alien race. The passenger wears a powerful war suit but vows she is not going to her former planet for the purpose of revenge. During the trip, Ed and the crew observe the strange habits of their passenger and wonder if they are being led into battle with the merciless aliens.

The action in “Laying the Ghost” occurs in the past as Mr. Brown contemplates the question of whether a machine can have a soul. Ed has always believed so, and in the end, his belief is reinforced. The passenger’s sad story unblocks Ed’s emotional constipation, but I found the character arc to be predictable: a man content with his life experiences the heartbreaking aftereffects of war and weeps. It made me wonder if Ed’s reaction would be the same if the passenger in the war suit was a man, instead of a pretty young woman with big brown eyes.

Ultimately, I’m skeptical as to how machines whose circuitry includes a self-aware paradigm could truly experience emotions or have a soul. I needed (and desperately wanted) a better scientific and philosophical explanation of this paradigm in order to suspend my disbelief.

Jacques Barcia combines magic, technology, and religion in “Salvaging Gods.” Gorette visits the mountains of discarded debris in the Valley of the Nephilim with her father where she finds bits of broken treasure. She recycles the refuse into a godhead. Believing the idol only has a few lines of code to give, Gorette asks it for a miracle. It provides one beyond her expectations and grants her every wish. Because of the godhead, Gorette is promoted to Popess and elevated to the throne. The people flock to court to seek her wisdom as they once sought Solomon’s in the biblical Book of Kings. Someone asks Gorette about the true nature of God. For Gorette to find the answer, she must confront the question of which is greater, the creator or the created.

The weird world Mr. Barcia creates is the focal point of the story, and “Salvaging Gods” is filled with a plethora of quirky details. The plot is interesting but often overwhelmed by the story’s odder elements. Some readers will definitely appreciate the literary value. The more I read, however, the more I felt distracted by this creative overdose.