Copperwood Press, $11.99
I tend to find the concept of “robots with souls” too cheesy for my liking, especially when the stories featuring such concept come with a huge load of cheese as a side order. However, I find myself enjoying this collection.
Souls in Silicon is a compilation of seven short stories written by Jeff Duntemann for various magazines from 1975 to 1993. Also included is an excerpt from Mr Duntemann’s novel from 2005, The Cunning Blood. The cover art is really nice, although I feel that the author’s name should be displayed more prominently on the cover. Any way, the theme of this collection is artificial intelligence in all its glory.
I’m not going to go into details for each story since most of them are on the short side and I’d end up revealing the whole story if I give even a short synopsis. All of them feature at least one machine that has been imbued with “soul”. “Soul” is an amorphous concept here, pretty much a catch-all word used to mean that the machine in question can think and feel like humans do. How they come to be this way isn’t important where the stories are concerned. The author is more intent on delivering his messages in his stories.
I have come across the messages in question in many other stories of similar nature before, honestly. Pretty much every science-fiction author takes this route at least once in his or her career, wagging a finger at the reader to cherish our humanity in a world that is becoming increasingly mechanical. Nonetheless, it’s how Mr Duntemann delivers those messages that counts here. I find myself feeling sorry for poor Rover the Mars-exploring device in Bathtub Mary and I hope he gets his own Wall-E story one of these days even as I absorb Mr Duntemann’s message about the importance of faith in our lives. Borovsky’s Hollow Woman, a collaboration with Nancy Kess, is a pretty heartbreaking story, although a part of me is driven up the wall by that robot woman-thing’s incessant wailing and indecision. The Steel Sonnets is a sweet and unexpectedly heartwarming story about the bonding between a “human” machine and a more typical machine as the two of them embark on an expedition to a strange and dangerous territory. Launce, Speed, and Rover really should get together one of these days and make a Pixar cartoon together. They deserve a happy ending because they are all so cute. The fact that I actually want them to be happy shows you how Mr Duntemann has gotten under my skin without me realizing it, I tell you.
Souls in Silicon can sometimes be too preachy for its own good, but this is all in all an excellent collection of well-written and entertaining short stories. And I don’t care what you people say – Launce, Speed, and Rover are out there, happy and surrounded by shiny happy people. So there!