Cat Valente has a gift for myth. She is inspired by it, she works with it, she weaves into new and strange configurations and leaves the reader to work out where they’ve got to and how they feel about it.
Nominally a story about an AI who dreams of communion with its own kind trying to integrate with a new and unwilling operator, this is more a coming of age story about innocence and experience. It is barely recognizable as an AI tale at all, couched within a rich and fluid dreamscape and communicated in part through co-opted fairytales.
I loved it, but I can’t resist a good bit of myth. I sensed Neva’s secret almost from the start, but the journey from the AI’s creation to Elefsis’s understanding of its future was fulfilling and distracting. Arguably the only missing but highly implicit tale was Pinocchio; but here it is the operators who want a real boy, not the puppet. Elefsis is self defined and alive on its own terms and cannot really understand that the Other is alien and threatening. It just wants someone like it to talk to.
A bit like For Want of a Nail this feels unlike an AI story because Elefsis has no purpose, but I found it a gorgeously imaginative story about the birth of a new intelligence. Appropriately, it’s got a lot of heart, albeit with jagged edges.