Redstone Science Fiction #5
“Witness” by Vylar Kaftan
Reviewed by Rena Hawkins
In “Witness” by Vylar Kaftan, an android struggles to control his programming–an overwhelming urge to kill–long enough to learn the meaning of his own existence. Ironically, this android, programmed to mindlessly kill by military contractor BioMed RevX, believes that killing is morally wrong.
The story takes place in an artificial training biosphere mimicking the Amazon rainforest. Trapped inside with human John Parris, a Security & Control Contractor for BioMed RevX, the android wages an inner battle against his “shadow,” the instinct to kill that he can barely contain. When Parris is critically injured by a jaguar/spider hybrid, another BioMed RevX creation, the android comes to see keeping Parris alive as a form of redemption.
Overall, I found this story very well written, but a couple of minor points bothered me. First, I felt Parris trusted the android far too quickly, almost immediately dropping his guard against possible attack; oddly careless behavior from a man who hunts and kills monsters for a living. Second, when the android battles the jaguar/spider in the water, the story revolves around the creature’s inability to swim. But jaguars are known for their love of water and superb swimming ability, so I found this a sticky point of belief.
The end of the story is disturbing but necessary. Kaftan stays true to the idea that while the android can suppress his instincts for a short time, he is a killing machine, and his programming will eventually win.
The second story in the October issue is a reprint of “His Master’s Voice” by Hannu Rajaniemi. Here’s your chance to read a great story if you missed it the first time around.
Here also is my chance to voice a concern. I read “His Master’s Voice” twice through and, although I enjoyed it, had to ask myself if the author’s choice to tell the story in a non-linear sequence of events really made the story better? Or did it just make the reader work harder? I seem to be reading a lot of stories the past 3-4 years told in a similar non-linear fashion. More and more, I long for stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In that order.