Friday, March 28, 2008

"Premature Emergence" by Eric James Stone

"Premature Emergence," although accurate, is an unfortunate title for a story. Likewise the opening sentence: "During a hyperspace slide, cargo haulers like the KMC-85 did not need a human pilot on board," isn't the best either. Mmmm, acronyms AND cargo haulers. Sign me up! However, this story overcomes its inauspicious beginnings and is readable throughout.

Jonah is the pilot of the cargo hauler that doesn't need a pilot. Damn unions. The job is supposed to be simple: using faster-than-light-but-not-instantaneous drive, you go in at one terminal and come out a few months later at another terminal. Foolproof. Except he comes out of hyperspace somewhere else, nowhere near a terminal, and light years away from anything. Whoops.

So Jonah is well and truly screwed even before he gets into an odd combat situation with a ship piloted by a rogue AI. (In the past, humans and AI fought. The AIs moved out into space and never the twain were supposed to meet... Whoops.) In the end the well-and-truly screwed Jonah tries to honor the worthy AI, in which resides his only chance for a happy ending.

The story is told in a straight-forward, unadorned style. However, the passages with the AI towards the end are genuinely moving, and Jonah's determination to do what's right even when there's no realistic hope of payoff for him is noble. Generally, this story reads like a classic Analog story. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing outstanding either.

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