Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Association of the Dead

Short Story by Rahul Kanakia
Text and Audio from Clarkesworld, read surprisingly well aloud by Kage Baker

Let me explain my comment on Baker's reading. Sumith is a programmer in a high-tech world working on a giant AI project in India; he is our central character. sumith (a.k.a. "Lowercase") is Sumith's reincarnated body, who sometimes acts like a zombie since eating food other than humans makes him "shit bricks." sumith is our other main character. And eventually joining them, we have sumith[?], sumith[!], and others. So I'm impressed by her ability to differentiate the characters. Plus, I love the different emphases she can put on the word "Brainnnssss."

Sumith spends most of the story coding and basically being a victim. But sumith is an EMP-gun totting zombie with utopian ideals, and groupies. Although they both do their part to drastically change the post-singularity world, I think sumith is really the (anti)hero of the piece. He has goals and ideals and amounts to things. Eventually, he repents his initial violence, and Sumith forgives him, but that wasn't the point so much as the exploration of how the world was changed. And maybe some thinking about how different we can be from ourselves, given different experiences.

The world itself is quite interesting. First, I'm amused that there is no difference made between being dead, and having your nanite implants turned off. And this makes the second thing even more important. Everything, including how long you have to be on hold while calling customer service, whether or not your oven works, and how long it takes for packages to arrive in the mail, is based on Karma. Not the metaphysical concept, but how many thumbs up or down you get from people based on your actions online. Social networking is vital to getting anything done. And since you can't rate the dead this way (no nanites to track it), they are irrelevant and can't do anything. Which actually matters, since we can bring people back now.

This was a very amusing comedic story, with a great ending, and more depth and extrapolation than most humor gets around to. The social networking commentary is amusing, and the central concept of how sumith goes about achieving his change is just brilliant and hilarious. Plus the finished AI as the model of bureaucratic idiocy is a nice satiric touch.

Best little tidbit: Cory Doctorow seems to be pretty revered in this world: "Doctorow knows we got a huge backlog; and we've done as He decreed."

4 zombie selves out of 5 keep promises to themselves, unlike the living.

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