Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Peacock Cloak

Short Story by Chris Beckett

Fabbro is a programmer who creates an entire artificial world, populates it with sentient AI, and makes 7 copies of himself, with slight alterations, to interact in the world essentially as avatars of gods. His copies predictably war, advance civilization, and generally take an idyllic paradise and mess it up. Towards the end of his life, and the end of the artificial world, he goes into it himself to try to make peace with all his other selves.

The story is told from the point of view of Tawus, the last of these copies, who has decided to kill his creator and take his place. No real action here, just the two of them talking and debating whether they will resolve their differences or kill each other. There is an enormous amount of religious symbolism here, but that doesn't actually take anything away from a story for once. The important thing is that there is a lot more deep thinking if you look past the God/Lucifer/etc type impressions.

It is an interesting conversation, and hits a lot of big, important ideas. Tawus spends an enormous amount of time feeling bad for atrocities he has lead people to commit, and because he feels terribly guilty about it, assumes the whole reason Fabbro wants to speak to him is to criticize these actions.

Deep introspection aside, an exceptionally interesting world is created here. The hacking-the-world method of functional magic is taken to extremes, and allows for the creation of the interestingly sentient Peacock Cloak, which Tawus made to protect himself. A lot of interesting worldbuilding goes on in the memories recalled as Tawus walks to his meeting.

The point is, there is an enormous amount I want to say about this, and I've already gone on for a long time. A very cool world, a neat central character, and some interesting thoughts on progress, technology, change, and the atrocities and personal losses needed for society to advance. Maybe there is no benevolent solution.

4.5 pond ripples out of 5.

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