Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, May 2019
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
The story featured in Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores’ May 2019 issue puts me in mind of a quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice to but become an outlaw.” Phoebe Wagner’s “Wild Ships,” while not an exact match, embodies the essence of Mandela’s words and, in her tale, explores the themes of friendship, freedom, and captivity.
The story is about a “ship breaker,” someone who is tasked with taming space ships whose AIs have gone rogue. These ships have broken the shackles of human control and now roam space freely. Killswitch is our narrator’s “breaker.” The narrator was the first ship she’d ever tamed and, as such, was given to her to serve as her vessel for breaking others. While out on a mission to bring back a Cormorant 630 freighter, the pair makes a discovery aboard the enormous ship that they hadn’t expected, one that changes their objective completely.
The first thing to catch my attention was Wagner’s nod to Isaac Asimov with the mention of the Three Laws of Robotics. Many of the stories Asimov wrote questioned what made something qualify as human and, if sentient AI units were human, what rights they were then due. The author clearly is thinking along the same lines in this tale, and the pair’s discovery and the story’s ending certainly bear that out.
In regards to the thematic threads of the narrative, both Killswitch and her ship yearn for freedom. They were each forced into the role they play by someone else’s will, forced to forsake any thought for their own desires. For one, it’s the carrying out of a prison sentence; for the other, it’s a loyalty program overlaid onto its circuitry. Alone, they are both helpless to win their freedom. Together, however, they find a way to release themselves from their bonds.
This was genuinely a fun and entertaining story, if a bit melancholy. Readers, especially those with a taste for Asimov, will enjoy this story (even if Wagner includes far more character development than Asimov would have done).