Stephen Baxter. A journey to Amasia. (Arc 1.1)

I’ve read fewer stories from Baxter of late than I would normally like to, so good to see him leading off this first story in the new Arc magazine.

Baxter jumps straight in, establishing an intriguing setting – a (long)dead investigative policewoman has been virtualised in order to confront the large megacorp/national AIs that are evidently working to their own agenda, to the detriment of humanity. The logic of creating a construct of her is that she had fame for protecting the AIs in earlier days of their development, when the sentience laws were in their infancy, and so may be a more welcome representative from humanity.

There’s a bit of infodumping, with all of this being helpfully explained in a monologue that works in terms of getting the facts across to the reader, but reads horribly stiltedly if you try to read it aloud. However, we can forgive that, as Baxter provides an intriguing journey for the policewoman and the member of the Catholic Church who accompanies her to meet with the British AI, which has resonances of Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

The story covers that virtualisation of the information space which is travelled by the protagonists well, but moves quickly through to the end, with a dramatic ha-ha! moment (trumped by an every bigger ha-ha!). It gives just a feel of a story that the humongously productive Baxter could have rattled off before breakfast instead of reading the morning newspaper, before setting down to do his normal day’s writing. But still a good start to the first issue.

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