Strange Horizons, May 11, 2015
Reviewed by Stevie Barry
Sarah Pauling‘s “Cloth Mother” is a beautifully sweet story about parenthood, growing up, and what it means to be human. Narrated by an AI called “Vita” (a diminutive of “Revitalization,” the name of a seed-ship orbiting Earth), it is the story of Mazie, a girl born from an embryo stored on the ship, and raised by Vita and an AI “mother.” As Mazie grows, they make notes on everything she does, and discuss her progress. In doing this, they become closer to humans themselves, genuinely caring about her. Mazie, however, worries that she has had no contact with the other humans in other ships, citing the experiment referenced in the story’s title: a scientist took baby monkeys and gave them the choice of a “wire” mother, which held a bottle, but no comfort, or a “cloth” mother, which gave them the comfort they wanted, but not what they needed. Vita and the mother have been the cloth; now she believes she must find the wire if she is to grow to be truly human. It’s a wonderfully crafted little tale, and any parent will instantly identify with Vita’s mingled pride and heartache at the sight of her child growing up.