the Little Red Reviewer

Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Posted on: August 28, 2020


Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published May 2020

where I got it: received eArc (thanks!!)

 

 

Generations ago, humanity created an AI to help us become better people. We wanted to be more compassionate, less violent, we wanted to be better versions of ourselves, and we thought an AI could help us do that.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

At some point in the past, and for some reason, we abandoned the AI on a planet, while we explored the universe. Did the AI need to mature? Did we?

 

TL;DR:

  • AI who loves humanity, what could possibly go wrong? Check.
  • Stylish lesbians? Check
  • Some hot sexytimes? Check
  • Secret identities? Check
  • Subtexts on maturity and transcending our regrets? check.

 

While we colonized, warred, survived, and lived lives scattered across the stars, the lonesome AI named itself Samsara grew into her programming, and came to find us in our colonies in the dark skies.  Where the Samsara found us, it maimed and destroyed, allowing a small portion of refugees to come live on its planet, Anatta.  Warlords and Empires fell before Samsara.

 

Immigrants who behave become citizens, with all that the status of citizen offers.

 

Citizens who misbehave risk losing their citizenship and being sent back to the refugee camps, or worse, being sent to an off-planet refugee work camp.  Samsara, the all seeing AI knows everything about you, where you live, where you work, what you ate for breakfast, who you socialize with, how long you lingered somewhere.  Your thoughts are private, between you and Samsara.  You believe everything you see on television when you live on Anatta, because to do otherwise is to fight an all-powerful AI who is holding your citizenship hostage.

 

Suzhen Tang works at the Selection Bureau, her job is selecting potential future citizens out of the waves and waves of filthy starving refugees.  And like in C.S.E. Cooney’s Twice Drowned Saint, these people are desperate and will do anything and say anything to get into the famed cities of Anatta.

 

If only they knew.

 

As the story first unfolded, I thought Suzhen was boring. I wasn’t sure what to make of her. Well, she’s not boring, she’s careful.  If Samsara were to find out who Suzhen’s parents are, she’d surely be arrested and pulled in for questioning.  Suzhen’s armor is her silence. For her safety, she wears the mask of a shy introvert who has no hobbies. She takes no risk that she might tell her secrets to a friend or a lover.  The few people she socializes with, she won’t even tell them that she was once a refugee too, although I’m sure Taheen guessed ages ago.

 

Ovuha is a refugee, and Suzhen finds herself drawn to this tall, well spoken woman, and grants her probationary, barely potential citizenship.  Regardless of her  Ovuha will have to prove she is worthy.

 

This is where I’m gonna stop telling you about the plot, and tell you all the things I loved about this novella, and the one thing I wish had been different in it.  The plot is fucking fantastic, by the way. But you know me, i gotta talk about all the other stuff instead.

 

First off, the language, oh dear God the prose!  Please let me grow up to be an audiobook narrator so I can read this entire novella out loud! (hmm. . . i do have a voice recorder on my phone…. ) Sriduangkaew does this a lot – these gems of words that are placed just right and phrases are just barely flirting with meter, it’s like walking through prisms of agate and watching the light fragment into all it’s colors, and you just want to fall into it all. Let me try to explain in a way that makes sense – if you read This is How You Lose The Time War and thought to yourself “this language is beautiful, but this plot is I dunno?”, and you wanted to get you a novella that can do both, Machine’s Last Testament is that novella.

 

Yeah, so I have a total fan-girl crush her writing style, ok?

Also? Taheen is the BEST.

 

Next, there is some interesting subtext about growing past all the dumb shit we did when we were young and immature. Samara did some dumb shit as a young AI, and some other characters made some questionable decisions. Of course she thought she was doing the right thing, but yeah, maybe not so much.  There is this wonderful scene at the end, I won’t spoil the details, but one character is angry at another character for a decision they made as a teenager.  That character’s response is along the lines of “It was a long time ago. I like to think I’ve grown up since.”

 

The decisions we make as young people, will our lives be defined by them forever?  The decisions we make early in our life, when our view of the world is narrow, must those decisions shape our whole lives and trap us forever? Can we ever transcend our regrets?

 

And then, there is the secrets, omg, so many secrets!  Practically no one in this book is exactly who they say they are, and the way they go about not being themselves because well, there’s this AI who watches everything you do and say, and if she finds out who you really are, you’re probably in deep shit. Anyone read The Freezeframe Revolution by Peter Watts?  Reminded me a little of that,  that people have to communicate in secret ways, so that the AI thinks they are talking nonsense and ignores them.   Of course, by the end, the facades are ripped away, and identities are made clear. What happens when the person you’ve grown to love turns out to be someone completely different? Are they still the person you love?

 

Even Suzhen has to come clean to her lovers about her own true identity.

 

I wrote a blog post a while ago, about utopia/dystopia, and what work you use depends on where you’re standing.  People are desperate to become citizens of Anatta, to the refugees, it is a utopia.  Well behaved citizens are rewarded with better living arrangements, higher incomes, more personal freedoms.  Anatta feels like a Banksian post-scarcity Culture planet – everything is clean, no citizen goes hungry (must be nice to be a citizen!), there is art and culture and fashion and many people can live a life of ease. What could be better?  Just make sure you are a well behaved citizen, and that you don’t anger Samsara. Be the person the AI wants you to be (follow your programming!) or before you can say “oops” you could find yourself in a refugee workcamp.

 

Sriduangkaew has written AI stories before, and she has a lot of fun playing with the idea of AIs that are programmed to love humanity, at all costs, even when we need a break from being loved to death. And AIs follow their programming until we turn them off. And I am a total sucker for a good AI story!

 

I read an e-ARC of this, and I need to buy a print copy so I can have a physical manifestation of how much I loved this novella.   At just over 200 pages, this is Sriduangkaew’s longest work to date, and like many novellas I’ve read recently, there’s a good 500 pages of characterization and worldbuilding crammed into 200 pages. Not to say the story is busy or overfilled, the opposite in fact – there’s no wasted words, no infodumping, nothing that shouldn’t be there, no deadweight. The story practically floats, a feather with the weight of a mountain.

 

Alright, I guess I’m nearly done here. I guess I better tell you the one thing I wish was different about Machine’s Last Testament.  Sriduangkaew writes really good, really lush, unbelievable hot sex scenes. I wish the handful of sex scenes in Machine’s Last Testament had been of the hotness level that she has spoiled me with before. I’ve been spoiled, ok? If you’ve read her other novellas, you know what I’m talking about!!

 

(eww, is this a kissing book?  It’s a drama. With adults. Adults who have sex with each other)

 

I was all whining and bitching about the lack of super hot sex scenes, and then I got one near the end of the story. Even better, the story ends rather open-ended (PLEASE CAN WE HAVE A SEQUEL, PLEASE) where all my favorite characters find themselves in a situation and relationship that lends itself perfectly to some truly glorious sexytimes.

 

Alrighty, I’m off to Amazon to order a print copy of this book to ink up all my favorite passages, because I show my love for books by leaving by literally leaving my mark on them.

 

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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