by Malka Older

Mason Jar Press
2019, 207 pages, $18.00


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...AND OTHER DISASTERS is a respectable single-author collection from another artist I was unfamiliar with. But the title is intriguing.

I enjoyed these tales:

“Tear Tracks.” A mission of first contact leads Flur, of the Very Foreign Service, with Tsongwa to the planet of the Cyclopes, humanoid beings who want to learn -- REALLY LEARN -- about the best and worst of humankind. The Cyclopes have been studying humanity’s behavior a long, long time. And they want to know what we do when we despair, how we handle loss, (why or if) we shed tears and what we learn along the way about ourselves.

In “The E-mail Heiress,” Wei is a programmer, email technician and customer relations liaison who has to find a way not only to look for protocol and policy, but to learn to trust the intentions of a couple of CyberServices clients who want to access the email login of a roommate who has died in a bus accident. Wei also has to answer a similar request from a woman whose boyfriend also died, and the woman wants to see if her boyfriend received an email from her that told him their relationship was not over. Wei is self-driven to help people regain a sense of dignity and closure, not just excel at customer relations.

“Saint Path.” Path is not a real entity at all, but rather a “stack” of memory and programming. This story is one of very classic and timeless tales that examine what it’s like to be human. And can we create an “artificial” human? Can programming be so good that there is no difference? Can an artificial intelligence experience despair, frustration or happiness, and can it struggle about HOW to feel if at all?