Aztechs, by Lucius Shepard
Posted May 5, 2011on:
Aztechs by Lucius Shepard
published in 2003
where I got it: library
why I read it: Author came highly recommended, this was the first title of his I came across.
I first heard the name Lucius Shepard a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve learned he’s been writing award winning scifi and sci-fantasy since the 1980’s, and is apparently once of science fictions best kept secrets.
Although much of his discography is out of print, much of his shorter works are available online, including Aztechs, available here for free. Hit up your local library (like I did), or start doing some downloading.
In this near future Mexico, a deadly laser fence locally known as El Rayo runs the entire US / Mexican border, sharing it’s name with the poverty stricken border town that runs it’s length. When he isn’t co-starring on his girlfriend Lupe’s loosely scripted and continually filming reality show, Eddie Poe makes his living running a security company. With Samurai drugs running rampant, there’s no shortage of brawlers, known as “Sammy”, and in a semi-lawless region of Mexico, there’s no shortage of contracts for Eddie.
In the last 10 years, a tech company called Aztechs has shown up, offering cheap tech to anyone who visits them. With offices in bizarre monuments out in the desert, the rumor is that Aztechs was founded by an escaped US born AI, who goes by the name Montezuma. Eddie’s latest contract is to escort the Aztechs representative, known as Zee, to meet with a local gangster family. Zee arranges for Lupe to film the entire thing, guaranteeing her a ratings boost when the world learns what Aztechs is willing to offer the right business partner. Montezuma is interested in creating a new country between Mexico and the US, putting the right family in charge of the whole thing, and throwing in immortality to sweeten the deal. Who could possibly refuse? Why would you want to? Imagine the possibilities!
At just over 100 pages, this novella can easily be read in one sitting. The prose is fresh and quick, the world-building a subtle warning to where our society is headed. With military SF undertones and a cyberpunk vibe going on, Shepard wisely skips much of the machismo and techno-babble that can sometimes be a turn off in those sub-genres. Shepard hasn’t got many pages to tell his story in, and he doesn’t waste a single word.
Although the story-line loses focus at the end, the question comes up more than once if Montezuma is a god. of course not. He’s a rogue AI, right? A rogue AI who causes buildings to spring up out of nowhere in the middle of the desert, who offers immortality, and can scour your sins away with a few million microscopic nanobots. Can’t possibly be a deity, supernatural and artificial are two completely different things, at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Aztechs is one of those stories that really makes you think, and even better, makes you want to think, want to explore the possibilities, and all those fine lines we’ve created to define what’s possible and what isn’t. I don’t know about you, but that’s my favorite kind of SF to read.
Reminding me a little of Charles Stross’s rogue AI’s in Accelerando, and S. Andrew Swann’s AI brothers who style themselves dieties in his Apotheosis series, Aztechs is a fun little read. Ignore the silly title and embarrassingly bad cover art, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a signed and numbered edition at your local library like I did. Talk about library surprise-brary!