the Little Red Reviewer

Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Posted on: July 5, 2021

A story with no romance and friendships stronger than death is hella awesome.

A story with lots of sensuality and healthy relationships, also hella awesome.

I really can’t choose because I get so much satisfaction out of both.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you a bunch of hella awesome things about Benjanun’s Sriduangkaew’s Machine Mandate series:

  • The series is all novellas and short stories
  • it’s a series that all takes place in the same universe, but you can read them in any order.
  • Super kick ass ladies who don’t take shit from anyone
  • Queer representation
  • Sriduangkaew’s prose is fucking gorgeous, and her action scenes are cinematic
  • How the AI’s interact with humanity (and choose not to) is fascinating
  • hard scifi + healthy adult relationships, what?
  • Oh, and the sex is plasma hot

yes, yes, I know I’m behind, there is a ton of stories in this series that I haven’t read yet.

The stories all take place in the same far future world – humanity created AI’s and colonized vast sections of the galaxy. After many generations, the AI’s realized they could probably live a better life without humans, so they ditched us and created their own AI-run communities. Humans gotta human, so there’s plenty of warfare and private armies and political machinations and amazing spaceships and space stations and FTL travel, and plenty of alien creatures for us to do inhumane things to. It’s a big galaxy out there, surely there is plenty of place for people and AI’s to live and not get all up in each other’s business.

Of course everyone is all up in each other’s business. Of course the humans not-so-secretly want to get rid of all ,the AI’s and of course the AI’s are lying when they say “we just want to be left alone, we mean humans no harm”. Cue the drama, trickery, flirting, and revenge, cyborgs, and cinematic action!

The Alabaster Admiral, Admiral Anoushka, shows up in a handful of Machine Mandate stories. Sometimes characters who are up to no good will mention the Alabaster Admiral because they are desperately trying to stay off her radar, and in other stories the Admiral is one of the main characters.

In Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast, we get to see both sides of Admiral Anoushka – her professional face, where she is a military commander for hire, and her private domestic life with her two wives Numadesi and Xuejiao. I really do love it when I get to see a character’s professional life, and their private life – they take no shit at work, but are super vulnerable at home (oh hai, can relate!).

One of the first (of many) scenes that I fell in love with is when Numadesi and Xuejiao are chatting, Xuejiao is the younger wife and she’s still insecure in her relationship with Anoushka, she often feels the need to prove herself. Numadesi and Anoushka have been together for decades, so it’s with the calmness and kindness of a having been in a long marriage that she tells new-ish comer Xuejiao “she loves you as you are, whether or not you feel adequate. She doesn’t take a wife to mold her into a shape of her preferences.”

Anoushka’s just back from a campaign, and as she’s settling in at home and enjoying some domestic bliss (and when I say domestic bliss what I mean intensely hot sex scenes. Like, however hot plasma is, these are twice that hot), she gets an offer she can’t refuse: attend the galaxy’s most notorious and dangerous auction, and bring back the item that’s being auctioned off at any cost.

All at once, Vishnu’s Leviathan is the seat of a government, a gigantic ship, and a living creature of immense scale. Queen Narupa’s scientists have figured out the secret to breeding baby Leviathans, and they are going to auction one off.  

Anoushka has no patience for wasting time, and neither does Sriduangkaew – everything in this story happens fast, and before we know it, the Alabaster Admiral is on the Leviathan and walking around like she owns the place. If a tour is offered, Anoushka will of course politely accept a tour of the Leviathan if one is offered. But she’s been here before, she already knows the secrets of this beast.  She recognizes these hallways, even if the hallway can no longer recognize her.

What you need to know is that no one in this story is who they say they are. Just about everyone has hidden secrets and hidden goals. Anoushka took the job to go to the auction because of a very specific kind of revenge she is seeking, but she’s not the only one looking to get revenge.

More so than that this is a novella, there’s something so fast about how quickly Anoushka was offered the gig, and why her client wants to get their hands on a baby Leviathan. I too was distracted by the banter, the technology, the worldbuilding, and the action – by the time I figured out what was going on, I and Anoushka were nearly in a no win situation. We both leapt before we looked.

I can’t get too much more into specifics without spoiling the ending, but OH MY GOD that ending! Secret revenge! Secret power plays! While reading the action scenes I felt like I was watching the world’s best directed anime!

Only a little bit of a spoiler – Anoushka is betrayed. (I’m not going to tell you by who)

How did she not see it coming? You know, maybe she did see it coming, and maybe she didn’t care. Maybe she knew that was the risk of playing this particular game.

Mild spoiler: She captures the person who betrayed her. Should she kill that person quickly or slowly? How should she make them pay for what they did? Ah, but this is the Alabaster Admiral, who has different priorities.

I hope Sriduangkaew had as much fun writing Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast as I had reading it! The story was engaging and fast paced, the prose has gorgeous imagery, I loved every page of this story. In fact, I think imma go read it again. Actually, I think I need to read it again, because now that I know what the big reveal at the end is, I want to know if there were any hints that I missed!

All of the Machine Mandate novellas are available as e-books online, and the shorter stories are in a number of online magazines. I’m slow as fuck reading these because I order the print versions of the novellas. As I get older, I’m having more and more trouble with e-books and reading long blocks of text on a screen. It’s not the stories, it’s me.

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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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