‘The Church Of Accelerated Redemption’ by Gareth L. Powell and Aliette de Bodard
Lisa is a computer engineer, a bottom rung temp. Not only does she get all the shit jobs, her boss repeatedly finds excuses to dock her pay; either it is because she is a woman or because she is American but either way she is powerless to prevent it. Resigned and resenting, she is all to aware that she is one step away form being down and out in Paris.
Taking a job at the Church of Accelerated Redemption, she becomes caught up in protest against the church by the Extraordinary Sapience Committee. The ESC’s problem with the church is that they run state of the art AIs to automatically generate personalised prayers on behalf of their subscribers (a cute idea) and as such they are enslaving carbon facists. Lisa does not find this line of argument particularly convincing. She does, however, becomes obsessed by a man in the crowd of protesters.
This is the first problem for the story. ‘The Church Of Accelerated Redemption’ is told in with the sort of matter of fact prose that is the default not only for this anthology but for genre science fiction as a whole. This means that Powell and de Bodard are unable to really capture Lisa’s pscyological state or the nature of her obsession. (Incidently, I’ve read work by both the authors previously but not enough to sayhow their collaboration differs from their solo work, stylisticly or otherwise.) So we have to accept the depth of her obsession simply because of her actions: she tracks him down and asks him on a date.
It is not a particularly romantic date. In fact, it takes place in a graveyard and is mostly given over to a debate about the possibility of strong AI. He also brings alone a pair of teenage “emo” bodyguard who terminate the date by betaing her up, pulling a knife on her and then kidnapping her. Definitely one for @firstdatehell.
Now we get to the second problem. After a hilariously lame non-apology (“I’m worried we got off on the wrong foot.” No shit.), he then reveals that he is actually a strong AI himself. Following a train accident as a child, a big hole in his brain was filled with “gel and silicon, and electronic components” and from this emerged a new type of consciousness. He rounds out this explanation by giving her a slap. So much for getting off on the wrong foot.
My suspension of disbelief was now shattered but Lisa is made of stronger stuff. Despite her treatment – and in a development that has been painfully obvious from the beginning – she volunteers to infitrate the church. That unexplain obsessive attraction again. The pair watch a romantic comedy at her flat before breaking in and liberating the AIs. As an added bonus, her asshole boss is there so she can beat him up. It is all very neatly tied up, including a very heavily foreshadowed revelation about what happens next for the emancipated AIs. Once again, optimism means magic technology saving the day for humanity.
Readable? For the first half or so.