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Review: The Fixer by Paul McAuley

This short story appeared in the Clarkesworld Magazine February 2016 Edition

I did not fall for this story immediately. It was certainly interesting, but it did not become one of those stories I think about before sleep until the turning point.

So what issues occupied my mind? The ideas of technology adapting and the survival instinct of technology (perhaps even autonomy).

The point of view of the story is what I find so fascinating. The audience experiences in real time the narrators shock and realization of trouble. The “I” perspective sits us right behind the ‘eyes’ of the narrator. (Isn’t it interesting how it’s almost second instinct to say that, but how it does not quite apply to this situation?) This first hint of the non-human perspective, which should not truly be a large shock considering the story’s genre, is when the narrator uses its processing power.

The second aspect I find interesting, which truly rivals the first, is the interplay between the narrator and the ‘fixer’. Nothing is set in this world where the narrator’s control is usurped by the ‘fixer’. The ‘fixer’ has a compelling power over the narrator, worming itself into the mind of the narrator and the reader’s where we sit.

[spoiler title=”Press to show spoilers”]Through the ‘fixer’ we learn that the narrator was sent with two other AI (artificial intelligence) companions. This fact sets in motion the events of the present and provides the main mystery, in my opinion, which takes dominance over the ‘fixers’ presence (although its presence is inseparable in a way as the catalyst). The AI narrator is accused of killing the other two companions and erasing the memories of this event. The emotions of the AI are complex: feelings of intense protection towards its ‘children’, and a refusal to feel sorry for the ‘deaths’ of the other two companions. The AI’s purpose is to serve and this drive allows the AI to rationalize its actions. The ‘fixer’ accuses the AI of a desire to be a god and extreme pride, setting up a contrast to a cold and calculating machine, but one very much touched by humanity.

Furthermore the AI decides that instead of modifying the world to allow the humans to survive, the AI needs to modify the humans themselves, artificially evolving them. This reminds me of an idea I read in my research about post-humanism. The ‘fixer’ points out that these new hominins are not human beings, despite the AIs insistence that they are still humans. The ‘fixer’ then cites that the humans are not self-aware or even capable of composing a symphony. This touches upon an issue I read in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake about what makes up humanity. Is it our DNA, is it our accomplishments? How can our evolution into post-humans save this aspect?[/spoiler]

I could go on and on about the different ways this text made me think and connected ideas I have been reading about. So I will just summarize. Who is this text for? Anyone who has ever wondered about artificial intelligence, post-humanism, or wants to explore any of these topics in a short story that makes you question: who is right? What right does any of us have over our consciousness? What makes us human?

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