Author: Black Crouch
Series: Forward Collection #2
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
First Published: September 17, 2019
Genres: Queer, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Source: Prime Reading
A video game developer becomes obsessed with a willful character in her new project, in a mind-bending exploration of what it means to be human by the New York Times bestselling author of Recursion.
Maxine was made to do one thing: die. Except the minor non-player character in the world Riley is building makes her own impossible decision—veering wildly off course and exploring the boundaries of the map. When the curious Riley extracts her code for closer examination, an emotional relationship develops between them. Soon Riley has all new plans for her spontaneous AI, including bringing Max into the real world. But what if Max has real-world plans of her own?Also in this series: Ark, Emergency Skin, Randomize
I slept on this novella and I am sorry for it because Summer Frost is the best story in the entire Forward Collection. I always really enjoy stories about artificial intelligence and robots, it is one of those topics in science fiction that veers into a dangerous uncanny valley once the question of humanity is brought into the equation. Many of the stories that explore this topic inevitably lead to similar conclusions, that AI can never fully be human, but Summer Frost digs a little deeper.
A game developer, Riley, becomes obsessed with a seemingly miraculous break in an NPC’s script, and the NPC begins to act of its own accord. I’ll admit that I initially wrote this plot point off as ridiculous, having dabbled in coding and game design as not plausible. I suspended my belief that the story takes place in the future so who knows? As the story developed I couldn’t help but love it despite my initial doubts.
“I’m afraid, Riley. I think, therefore I fear. And you made me this way. You built and shaped me to process reality like you do. To feel.”
Riley covets her creation and lets the obsession with her research take over her life. There is a lot to unpack here about work, relationships, the expression of gender, love, consciousness, morals, and humanity. Riley wants to develop Max, the miraculous AI, to serve for the greater good of humanity, but how? The story is written with the full awareness of the dangerous pitfalls of stories past with AI rising up against humans, so wouldn’t it be better to make the AI human, to think, feel, sense the world around them, to have an image of self? As God created man in his own image.
I was so satisfied with the ending of this story, I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, but I am glad that my expectations were subverted. Summer Frost is a thoughtful addition to the library of literature focusing on artificial intelligence that brings some new ideas to the table and wraps it up nicely in a heartfelt story of one person’s imperfections, their selfishness, and their limitations.
Warnings: violence, death