REVIEW: “Cold Blue Sky” by J. E. Bates

Review of J. E. Bates, “Cold Blue Sky”, Apex Magazine 108 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A robotic AI was used to commit a felony. Her memory has been wiped, but the police bring her chasis in to see if they can find any scraps that might help. The twist? She remembers everything. The narrative switches back and forth between her present day observations of the police, and her memories of the crime.

The most interesting part of this story is probably the choice of protagonist. The story is told from the point of view of the AI, who has very little idea of what is going on. She has almost no experience beyond her programming, and is not depicted as particularly intelligent. In fact, the AI’s are repeated described as “nascent sentience” and “below legal limits,” implying that they are not quite smart enough to quality as truly sentient. It bring up questions about what makes a being self-aware, a person, without really dwelling on the matter. The fact that she can narrate a story and be a point-of-view character answers the question by itself.

The world could be a near-future of our own, but the themes of AI exploitation and the sabotage of a huge corporation strongly suggest a cyberpunk influence, which I quite enjoyed. The caper itself seemed unique, relying entirely on her use as a computer. It’s more common to see AI robots interacting like humans, whether they are our equals, superiors, or slaves. Here, she is clearly something other, and that makes for an interesting dynamic and point-of-view.