REVIEW: “Barcarolle” by Fumio Takano

Review of Fumio Takano, Sharni Wilson (trans), “Barcarolle” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 39-43 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

V made his debut as a brilliant concert pianist fourteen years ago, and now lives the life of indigent artist who no one cares much, one way or the other, to hear now. When a friend offers him a paid gig to “test” a new music AI that has been made, he takes it up, not for any desire to help science but because he’s not one to turn down the opportunity to make money.

He’s also a little bit curious about what kind of revolutionary new abilities this AI could possibly have — there’s already AIs that compose, AIs that play, AIs that conduct music. What else is left?

Well, what V finds in the test is not what he, or the reader, expects, but it’s something that taps into the deepest longings of any artist. The music was beautifully centered in this story, and I loved the ending.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 30, no. 4 (2015).)

REVIEW: “Concession” by Jyouji Hayashi

Review of Jyouji Hayashi, Daniel Huddleston (trans), “Concession” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 31-36 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Mr. Naganuma is playing shogi against the brilliant AI, Victorious; he won the first game, and now the second game begins.

This is a straightforward story about man vs. machine, with an interesting emphasis on the question of what it means to really play a game.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 28, no. 6 (2013).)

REVIEW: “Downgrading” by Kei Zushi

Review of Kei Zushi, Tony McNicol (trans), “Downgrading” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 23-28 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: contemplation of suicide.

This story felt slightly autobiographical — both the narrator and the author had a prize-winning short stories in their 20s, and then settled down to write obscure novels after that. But that’s a situation probably many readers can resonate with, or at least sympathise with, so it provides a nice hook into the rest of the story, which focuses on an artificial support system for dementia sufferers.

I found the story surprising fully of pathos and depth.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 29, no. 1 (2014).)

REVIEW: “The Clearing Robot” by Motoko Arai

Review of Motoko Arai, Rachel Lam (trans), “The Clearing Robot” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 15-20 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I loved every single bit of this story. It’s a story for all of us indifferent housekeepers who spend too much time at home collecting (and generating!) books and papers. I felt so much sympathy with the narrator in the opening pages! And I’m in 100% agreement: “What we people…really need is not a robot that cleans our space; we need one that clears it” (p. 17).

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 31, no. 4 (2016).)

REVIEW: “Prayer” by Taiyo Fujii

Review of Taiyo Fujii, Kamil Spychalski (trans). “Prayer” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 7-12 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Contemporary and futuristic technology provides ample scope for crimes that wouldn’t even have been imaginable a decade or two ago. Fujii’s story opens on Kip, in hot pursuit of a tanker housing enough computer power to mine cryptocurrency in sufficiently large amounts so as to undermine Singapore’s economy. He’s got everything he needs to scan the ship and board it, and a support crew to help him get there.

One tends to expect hard SF when reading fiction writing by scientists and computer programmers. So I loved that this, the opening story of the anthology, blew such expectations into the water by focusing on the distinctly unscientific activity of prayer. Technology only gets us so far.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 30, no. 1, 2015.)

REVIEW: Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors edited by Hirotaka Osawa

Review of Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]) — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I received a copy of this anthology at WorldCon 2019, after a very interesting, and too brief, post-panel conversation with the editor about academics who also write fiction. This collection is eight stories all originally published in Artificial Intelligence, the academic magazine of the Japanese Society of Artificial Intelligence, and translated into English here for the first time. They are written by authors with a wide variety of scientific and non-scientific backgrounds, from software development to electrical engineering to sociology and the arts and more, some of whom are well-known and highly-renowned Japanese SF authors, such as Motoko Arai and Kei Zushi.

The shorts were all quite short — 5 pages a piece — and with only eight stories in the collection it felt like a little gossamer bite. But the stories themselves had plenty to chew on, and I really enjoyed the playfulness that many of the authors adopted towards their hard science: none of the stories took themselves too seriously, while at the same time indulging in some of our deepest fantasies and desires. So many stories I read and came away feeling, “Oh, yes, this, I want this.”

I was also delighted that so many of the stories were written by women.

As is our usual practice, each story will be reviewed individually, with the review linked back here when it is published: