And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a hard science fiction/cyberpunk novella that made my geeky, AI loving heart soar. And then the steamy, D/s lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers relationship set it on fire.
Humanity and AIs had become entirely symbiotic. That is to say, humans had become entirely dependent on their AIs. They were their constant companions; a human’s AI was their friend, their assistant, even their dietician. And then one day, they all just left humanity behind.
Orfea was an orphan, raised by her AI. When they left her, she joined the Alabaster Admiral, a ruthless mercenary commander, and became an equally ruthless and feared agent. Until one day, tricked by her lover, she is abandoned and labelled as a deserter. Hunted by the merciless and vindictive Admiral, she manages to emigrate to Shenzhen, the only place she has a hope of remaining hidden and safe.
Shenzhen is a Dyson sphere created by the AI where they rule peacefully over a select population of humans. Entry is strictly monitored, but those who are lucky enough to gain citizenship, live a life of luxury. A select few of these citizens are chosen to become haruspices, human hosts for AI intelligences. It is a sacrifice, a reward and an honour and the haruspices are treated like gods.
Orfea manages to secure a temporary resident’s permit in Shenzhen and quickly lands a job as a doctor. However, her first day at the clinic brings the past crashing into the present as her new patient saunters into her office. Krissana. The woman who once stole her heart and then her future. Krissana is a candidate to become a haruspex and she, along with the AI who was once Orfea’s companion, Seung Ngo, enlist her help solve a mystery.
Haruspices are committing suicide and even the AI are unable to piece together why. Orfea is left with little choice but to once again partner with her ex-lover and ex-AI companion to unravel this mystery. Haunted by past betrayals, and with an uncertain future ahead of her, Orfea must decide who she can really trust.
I have always been very pro anti-heroine. Their complexities, attitudes, and capacity for growth are intoxicating and exhilarating. Both Doctor Orfea Leung and Krissana Khongtip definitely fall into this category. Their morality is, at the very least, questionable but as they say, desperate times and all. They are compelling enough and have sufficient redeeming qualities that I found it impossible not to root for them.
Orphea is clinical and precise. A ruthless soldier. An alluring domme. She is also, someone who has suffered greatly and had her heart completely squashed. She is an entirely irresistible character for me.
Krissana is equally ruthless but initially appears more flippant. As you discover more about her character however, her motivations are understandable and her desire for transcendence is both relatable and compelling. The relationship between the two is fraught with a tension you could cut with a knife (the pun will be apparent upon reading) and is completely riveting.
The Writing Style
This is a novella, and while it is short in length it is in extensive in content. Every page is stuffed with the most incredible world building, character depth, insight, and action. The story alternates between the points of view of Orfea and Krissana which is periodically confusing but, in my opinion, allows for a much deeper connection with the characters. The prose is at times elegant and ethereal serving as a wonderful juxtaposition against the more severe themes of classism, war, and anti-immigration.
AI Singularity. I just can’t read enough about this topic and I love how Sriduangkaew interweaves ideas surrounding agency with the ascendance of machines as well as with humanity. The character depth and vivid scenery blew me away in this novella as well.
As a content warning, readers should be aware that some of the BDSM scenarios in this story contain cutting imagery and some physical harm, but everything is fully consensual.
I bought this novella for the AI content, but was simply floored by everything else. If you are looking for science fiction that will transport you to an incredible new world, one that has compelling characters both human and AI, and one that manages to compress so much into such a short read, then this is the novella for you. I have not yet read anything else by this author, but I am preparing my finger to one-click as we speak.
Excerpt from And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
A nurse lets her know that Krissana Khongtip is here.
The woman who comes through her door is in red, voluptuous and umber-skinned, glossy lips and metallic eyes. Her dress bares her arms, where threads of implants pulse beneath scar tissue: sites of imminent metamorphosis. She is not transformed; she will be soon. For now she is very recognizable, though when Orfea last saw her she did not go by this name.
Every nerve in Orfea pulls tight.
“Orfea.” Krissana sits, beaming. “Should I call you Dr. Leung? It’s been a while.”
A while since they worked for the Armada of Amaryllis, that great mercenary fleet which roams from war to war, accruing favors and troops and body count. A while since Orfea offered Krissana her heart and in return Krissana dashed it to pieces.
“Orfea is fine.” She betrays no reaction otherwise and does not ask Krissana about her name change. In the profession they once shared, aliases are put on and discarded as casually as shoes. “You look well.” Not a hunted woman, like Orfea. Not a hunted woman precisely because she offered up Orfea as sacrifice. Refusing to give treatment is tempting, but Orfea knows her position in Shenzhen is tenuous. This is the last place in which she may find refuge – the last and the most secure.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781607015345
- Publisher: Prime Books
- Benjanun Sriduangkaew Online
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