Terraform, May 11, 2015
Reviewed by Robyn Reagin
This haunting story within a story opens with a severed head that comes to rest on the banks of a river. A child, Maya, finds the head and carries it to a dry place in the woods where it tells her its story. The head once belonged to the body of an android. Programmed as an acoustic engineer, he was assigned to a small ship called the Calliope. He became close to a human named Eura and at her urging produced what he called harmonics. She called it music and found it beautiful.
Eventually war came to the Calliope and the android lost Eura. He became violent and turned into a killing machine, which is why he was dismembered and his head thrown into the river. He begs Maya to reach inside his head and pull his wires out to end his painful existence. She can’t bring herself to do it and runs away from him.
Maya avoids the head after that. She grows up and becomes a leader in artifact recovery, cataloging objects from indigenous life forms that inhabited her planet before colonization. Only when her mother is dying does she return to her childhood home and hear the singing that draws her back to the head in the forest.
The android’s head, never named, is more complex and interesting than the human characters. I liked this story because it deals with one of my favorite science fiction themes: are androids/replicants/artificial beings capable of feeling love, suffering, grief, and in the case of this story, can they create art? The answer to all these questions for the singing head in the forest is yes.