SHORT STORY REVIEW: Glitch- by Hugh Howey

“What if a single one or zero is miscopied and that makes all the difference? Maybe this is why we’ve never gotten over this hump before, because progress looks like a glitch, and it can’t be copied or reproduced.”

I’m not going to bother with a synopsis of Glitch. It’s a tale as old as sci-fi; an android designed to be a weapon gains sentience. We’ve seen it so many times in everything even remotely science fiction related that I’m always bemused by how  scientists never see this coming. I mean, come on. Surely they’ve grown up watching enough science fiction to know that It would be more shocking if their emotionless killing machine didn’t gain some kind of human emotion.

This premise has been done a million times and the only thing that distinguishes this story is the writing. If you don’t like the hard science fiction technical discussion then, well, you’re reading a story with a stripped down android head on the cover,so I don’t know what you expected. If you are an engineer, a programmer, or just a humanities graduate who finds this kind of thing interesting, then there is a lot to enjoy in the writing itself.

Usually the ‘sentient robot/ artificial life form’ story goes down the philosophical route, being an introspective piece looking at what it means to be ‘human’. It’s either that, or a lot of brooding about whether or not said artificial lifeform is ‘real’ (especially if said artificial lifeform takes the appearance of a pretty young girl).

Glitch doesn’t follow either of those routes. It is secure in what it means to be human, and instead it examines what sentience would look like on a pure, technical level and it revels in the wonder of what an achievement it would be for an engineer to actually create something that could think for itself. It is pure, joyful computer programmer’s fantasy and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There is the minor quibble of the main character’s voice. It’s great to see a science fiction story where a female is the main character and an accomplished engineer that all the others respect and look for their opinion. The only problem is that something about the tone doesn’t quite register as a female- I’ve been around a lot of female squaddies who are hardened and swear a lot, but there’s something about the harshness of the tone and the way main character talks that didn’t feel like a woman talking. However, since a lot of females tend to get to the touchy feely closer to earth treatment, I definitely prefer this depiction to the usual, and this really is a minor point.

The only other problem besides this one is that, again, the artificial being gaining sentience is so common, and so done to death, that it really isn’t a strong enough premise to centre even a short story around- especially as it treats the robot’s sentience as a surprising, unheard of event.

Glitch has been done a million times before and does not bring anything new to the table. However, I enjoyed Howey’s writing and the love of technology that he brings to the story and would definitely consider reading one of his novels. So in the end, this short story has achieved everything it set out to.

RATING: 3 artificial killing machines who rebel against their programming and choose their own path/ 5

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