REVIEW: “Night Shift” by Eileen Gunn

Review of Eileen Gunn, “Night Shift”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 175-190 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

2032: An interplanetary gold rush has begun, and the prize is water, not gold. The miners are robots, with human intelligence and superhuman survivability.

The opening premise of this story resembles that of the previous one, “The Use of Things” (read the review), with a focus on the mining of asteroids by robots for water.

2032 no longer feels like that far in the future. When the author rehearses what has gone on in the 2020s, it all of a sudden has this uncomfortable feeling like this is right around the corner, except — and here I sort of slip into an uncanny valley — given how the world actually is, now, in 2018, I cannot quite fathom how it could be as Gunn describes in the 2020s. We’ve got a long way to go if we want to be populating near-Earth space with sophisticated mining technology by the end of the next decade.

This is all backdrop for what is a pretty ordinary story of coders and mining and slime mold (a lot of slime mold) which was enjoyable but unfortunately marred by one story thread that was probably thoughtless rather than intentionally hurtful, and yet is still problematic. When Tanisha, the manager, refers to Seth as “she”, and the narrator, Sina, one of the coders, “rolled my eyes. Tanisha thinks Seth is a girl”, my first thought was “if Tanisha is misgendering one of her staff, then I wish Sina would do more than just roll her eyes, but would speak up and correct her. But then it turns out that Seth isn’t trans, he’s an AI, and I found that deeply disappointing. What could’ve been the first instance of an openly queer character in this anthology instead became an example of the very problematic trope of othering trans people to the point where they are — literally — not even human.

I guess I had hoped that an anthology about visions of space and space exploration for the future would do better than that.