I first read this about the time that Murderbot installments were coming out, leading me to an epiphany that I had been under-valuing the world of AI and robotics in sci-fi. So much has focused on the ‘what does it mean to be human’ part of AI and robotics that it’s missed out on some of the sheer fun. Palmer’s narrative-switching between the third-person of the human crew and the AI ship to an ‘unstable’ multifunction maintenance bot allows for both plotting tension and humor in this winner of the 2018 Hugos for Novelette (published Clarkesworld issue 132: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/palmer_09_17/).
The premise is that an AI ship has been pulled out of storage and crewed by a small group of humans for a very specific war-time mission. What that mission is will gradually unfold, but it’s quickly apparent the Ship’s “biological incursion” during time in storage is a very malicious thing that may prevent the mission from succeeding. Meanwhile, Bot 9 and it’s clever bundle of subroutines (such as the “Mantra Upon Waking, a bundle of subroutines to check that it was running at optimum efficiency”) has been assigned maintenance task 944 in the que, the eradication of the biological infestation. But Bot 9 has been in stasis a long time.
“’I will continue my pursuit,’ it told the hullbot. ‘If I am able to assist your partner, I will do my best.’
‘Please! We all wish you great and quick success, despite your outdated and primitive manufacture.’
‘Thank you,’ Bot 9 said, though it was not entirely sure it should be grateful, as it felt its manufacture had been entirely sound and sufficient regardless of date.
It left that compartment before the hullbot could compliment it any further.”
Something about interchanges like that just cracks me up, and they continue as Bot 9 joins forces with another, more modern bot. But the human situation is quite serious, as we continue to learn through interchanges in the cabins or with the Ship, and as Bot 9 gradually assimilates more information. It all works out most cleverly, with a fun little resolution for our bot duo.