Review: Machine Learning

Posted: June 28, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Hugh Howey, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Short Fiction

So it’s been a little while since I’ve read any short fiction. In general, I tend to watch for anthologies with lots of new authors (so I can find new sources of awesomeness) or collections of authors that I already know are good. However, I’d heard so dang much good stuff about the Silo trilogy (but still never read it) that when this collection showed up in our pile, I was quick to snatch it up. As it turns out, I’m very glad that I did.

MACHINE LEARNING (Amazon) is a collection of 21 short stories from author Hugh Howey. There’s a very large spread among theses stories in length and content alike, although most of them are Science Fiction and all of them are quite well-written. I usually like to break down the stories in books like these into the various ratings we give out. So, here’s my breakdown for this one:

  • Loved: 10
  • Liked: 7
  • Mediocre: 4

Really weighted toward the top of our scale. Some of my favorites of the bunch were:

Executable — One of the shorter stories, this one was the opening gambit of a trial. The defendant is a technicians that had been working in a room containing an AI but otherwise completely cut off from the outside world. It’s obvious from the get-go that they’re all recently post-apocalypted, and that this guy had been explicitly involved in the events that led to the release of the AI and subsequent fall of mankind. It was more of a humorous piece. The first bit of dialogue, in fact, is: “It was the Roomba,” and I had plenty to laugh about after that.

WHILE (u > i) i–; — I got a kick out of the title for this one. Maybe it’s because I stare at code for most of my day job. Maybe. It’s about an android that is trying to make his aging, human wife more comfortable as she is slowly going senile and nearing death. Dealt with a lot of intimate human issues, and was actually the continuation of an earlier story in the collection that addressed an earlier point in their relationship. Super good stuff.

The Plagiarist — This one was about a man that enters a VR simulation of the Earth and searches for artists and authors that create beautiful masterpieces and then plagiarizes them, bringing their works back into the real world. It dealt with the concepts of reality and morality, and had this slow intriguing burn that just pulled me into it’s pages with ease and didn’t let me go until it spat me out at the other end.

Select Character — Donna is a new mother. She has lots to do, but these days she frequently finds herself picking up the controller to her husband’s video game console and playing the war game he bought. Gets to the point where she enjoys playing it. Then one day, her husband comes home early, and finds her playing while the baby is taking a nap. He’s aghast, but excited, and says he wants to watch her play. So she plays the game for him. But she doesn’t do anything the way she’s supposed to, anything that her husband says she should be doing. It surprises them both what she eventually finds. Really good, even though it was pretty minimally speculative, if at all. Just loved the concept.

I read another collection quite a while ago where the author, Tobias Buckell, had attached some explanation to each story in his collection. I forget if that extra stuff came before or after, but the idea was that the author shared some of his insight(s) into writing each story and what he learned when writing them. Howey does something similar here with the large majority of the stories. Except for that last one on my list, “Select Character”, I think that these author-inserts were my favorite parts of this collection. Because even when I was kind of iffy about actually enjoying the story, these extra words from the author always elucidated some new piece of the story and brought me back to realizing just how impressive of a writer the guy really is.

A well-written collection of predominantly Science Fiction short stories that touch on the Silo series universe, A.I., aliens, and even an old west tale

All three of the original Silo series books are actually sitting on my bookshelf at home, waiting to be read. Getting through this one has definitely made me want to get to those sooner rather than later. Although, I’m hoping that now that I’ve read the three Silo stories in this collection, that I won’t find I’ve spoiled any of that story for myself. Although, if it’s written anywhere near as well as these short stories were, I’m sure I’ll be able to slide into them just as easily and dive into what he’s put together there. Another Science Fiction author for me to enjoy. Woo-hoo! Anyone else a fan?

If you are a fan of Howey’s, or if you’re looking for another Science Fiction author that writes good stuff, tells engaging stories, and focuses on well-wrought characters, this is likely the author, and perhaps even the collection, for you to pick up.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Semi-regularly strong
  • Violence: Themes of large-scale death and suicide, little that is intimate or gory though
  • Sex: Several moderately strong references

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