The story that makes up December's GigaNotoSaurus is one of the shorter offerings of the year but packs one of the biggest emotional punches. Circling around themes of humanity, personhood, and loss, it managed to slowly and expertly build a relationship that became its own world. And when that relationship is ended, when one person suddenly finds themself without that core presence to ground them, the world seems to end with it. It's a story that looks at what it means to lose a person and, more importantly, what happens after the story is over. It's an amazing piece and I'm going to jump right in to the review!
"A World Alone" by Lauren Rudin (6676 words)
This story is a moving bit of SFF that focuses on loss and grieving and what makes us human. It centers on Macklin, who is living in many ways in the wake of death. Of the loss of their mentor and friend, a woman the call simply Madame. Macklin was her assistant and companion, the person who was always with her after a certain point. Except when Madame would go overseas to visit military bases where the science she worked on was deployed. And I love the feel of the story, how it creates this dual narrative of the past and the present. The past is where in many ways Macklin is still living, spending their time watching and rewatching videos of Madame. It's a past that seems full of laughter and stress but full because of Madame, because of her personality and presence. And without her, without that filling up the hours of their life, Macklin is lost. They adopt a kitten that they find abandoned but otherwise they do very little, avoiding the difficult questions that have arisen now that Madame is gone and left her entire estate of Macklin. And it's a slow but beautiful story about coming to terms with loss and about living when the standard definition of life isn't enough.
[SPOILERS] And okay, I can't really talk about a lot do with this story without talking about Macklin being an artificial intelligence. We never really get to see too much of them, but it's obvious that they live as a person, fully aware and fully devastated by the loss of Madame. That emotion in some ways proves his personhood but it's a situation complicated by the face that he doesn't really have legal rights. He's left in a place where the military wants to take what is his because they want to use it, something that Madame was always conflicted about. And for a character that is dead before the start of the story, Madame dominates the narrator. She is creator and friend and mad scientist all rolled into one but she's also a damaged person trying to atone for her past and trying to do good. She's unconventional and contentious and that's really what she leaves to Macklin. Not all of the things so much as this moment when Macklin can decide to assert their own place, their own story. Their own personhood.
And I love that the story goes so deep into Macklin's head before revealing their nature. That it really does question why humans have such a fear of artificial intelligence but can like aliens. Why humans try to reserve personhood only for themselves. And I love that Macklin is able to stand up and decide to fight, for themself and because it's the best way to honor what Madame did. Not her work in the military but her work with AI and with what she was able to accomplish helping people. It's a wonderful and emotionally resonant story that I definitely recommend everyone go out and read. A fantastic piece!