Among the Wild Cybers
© 2018 Christopher L. Bennett
In the not-so-distant future, humanity’s exploration of the cosmos has begun in earnest — driven in part by the plight of Earth, with collapsing ecosystems forcing outward movement. Among the Wild Cybers is a collection of previously published short stories, set in various phases of a sparefacing race’s evolution — from pioneering lunar colonies to faster than light travel in the 24th century. Evolution is the word to use, because not only are new kinds of societies being constructed, with unique cultures on colony worlds and space habs, but humans are changing themselves directly, through both genetic modification and cybernetics. Readers are dropped into the middle of things for each tale, with backstory information filtering in as the story (typically mysteries, with some dramas and a touch of action) unfolds. This approach works well most of the time, although there is a helpful historical overview in the back for the reader who still feels left in the dark.
I know Christopher L. Bennett as a Star Trek author, and the only one I know of that puts real scientific consideration into the worlds, species, and technical dilemmas that he creates. That and the prospect of reading about genetic supermen made this an easy sell for me. If you’re at all interested in artificial intelligence or transhumanism, there’s plenty of interest here, in part because Bennett doesn’t go for easy answers. While there are cyber intelligences present in the stories, Bennett’s characters indicate these are rare. Most attempts at creating a genuine metamind fail, as the creation either goes insane or sinks into silence. Even the machine intelligences which do exist can’t simply be downloaded and transferred at whim. Bennett’s premises succeed in some very intriguing tales, especially in the title story “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele”, about cybernetic creatures with the ability to evolve. There’s also beauty here, particularly in the story, “Caress of a Butterfly’s Wings”.
Some of the tales:
- “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele”: a scientist on a colony world fights to defend a variety of cybernetic lifeforms which evolved from human probes
- “Aspiring to be Angels”: a troubleshooting-trainee and her boss investigate an incident where an attempt at creating a superhuman machine intelligence has somehow rendered the human developers insane.
- “No Dominion”: which is the only story not to share a history with the rest, death has been defeated. This makes murder investigations a little more complicated.
- “The Weight of Silence”: , a woman who is rendered blind and deaf by an explosion aboard her ship must, groping along with her similarly disabled shipmate, find a way to communicate with one another and somehow put themselves into a position to be rescued.
- “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”: the human crew of the ship Arachne is pulled from stasis by furious aliens, who want to know why they murdered 88,000 of their people.
- “Caress of a Butterfly’s Wings” witnesses an act of sacrificial love toward a perceived enemy by an augmented woman sailing through the stars.