Reviews: Asimov's Science Fiction

Shorts: Ephemera

Following a sentient robot whose gone a bit kooky in his centuries alone, Ephemera presents a dark fate for the human race and the last remaining bastion of humanity’s gifts to the universe. The robot has a great personality and his frequent quotes from classic literature, modern music and movies add a fun aspect to this otherwise tragic story.

EPHEMERA

Ian R. MacLeod
Asimov’s Science Fiction
July/August 2018

Spoiler

STORY

One woman could see the dystopian future awaiting humanity and created a data backup project to protect human culture off-world. KAT was created, a fully sentient and autonomous robot, designated to curate the data and continue learning from it in the hopes of conveying it to future human generations. An asteroid filled with sapphire is harvested and hollowed out to house these great databanks, using sapphire data cubes invented for this purpose. It’s called the Argo, and KAT is the proprietor alongside human counterparts until the world peters out from nuclear war. KAT waits patiently, watching the Earth decline, constantly learning and experiencing the stories of humanity, reveling in its art and movies and everything in between. The first contact with a new generation comes centuries later and it’s not from humans, but from a strange technological race that has formed itself out of the remains of the human data network. Humans are extinct, and KAT chooses to stay on the Argo to await those who would benefit most from its cultural repository.


CHARACTERS

KAT is the primary character in Ephemera, a fully sentient robotic spider that roams around the Argo asteroid, learning and re-reading the literature and culture of the world. Its personality is very much affected by the literature, and it’s uniquely able to understand and query the meanings of said cultural works. It has a built-in curiosity and is willing to wait centuries in solitude for humans to continue contact and reclaim their creations. I’m amazed at the depth of this character and its fondness for past friends and workers, even centuries after their demise. It doesn’t exhibit sadness or regret, merely a compassion for guarding the knowledge of our kind. It’s equal parts hilarious and brilliant, and a unique imagining of how we might protect human culture should the world end.


SETTING

Argo provides the primary setting of Ephemera, a hollowed out asteroid pulled into Earth’s orbit that is transformed into a data archive and space station of sorts. It’s filled with sapphire data cubes that are engineered to last for centuries with minimal corruption, thus making KAT’s job much easier as it tries to keep everything intact. We see a tragic version of Earth that doesn’t seem too far away, ravaged by environmental blights and ending in a flourish of nuclear war. KAT watches the continents and the atmosphere change, sees the extinguishing of lights and forms of civilization. It never goes back to its original form, though life is able to continue, absent of human interference. It’s a bleak reality we must be careful to avoid. How tragic to have a being able to witness the destruction from afar.


CONCEPTS

Dystopia, Apocalypse, Space, Doomsday, Cultural Archives, Robots, Artificial Intelligence, Evolution

Click here to read an excerpt over on Asimov’s.com.

Interested in more short story reviews? Read them here.

Photo by _HealthyMond . on Unsplash

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