My Year of Short Stories: Dec 12th, The Last Dance by Jack McDevitt, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2017

Spoilers*

A story about a man who replaces his late wife with a holographic digital image of her. The software is comprised of his memories, her legal documents, social networks, family recollections, etc. The only difference between his wife and this A.I. representation of her is that he can not touch this holographic A.I.

The man also has a daughter in third grade. The daughter is much less enthusiastic in welcoming this mother-replacement.

After some time the A.I begins to question the narrator about whether he has other women in his life. At first, readers might think this is another cliche of an A.I. becoming jealous, but it’s quickly revealed that the A.I.¬†wants the narrator to begin to see other women. Find someone else. Move on from his wife’s death. The A.I. says it is part of the process. The reason he paid for the service. It is a tool that helps people get over loss, and as his mother had died just a year before his wife, the A.I. was supposed to be utilized as a tool. However, the narrator is not able to let go. The A.I. leaves, disappears, and the narrator is left distraught, only for his mother (or the A.I. version of his mother) to come into the room and comfort him.

A had a few issues with this piece in terms of making sense of the world. First, the A.I. hologram was a one-time purchase in the story, but by the end, the A.I. wife tells him she’s leaving and that’s he’ll receive a partial refund. From a business standpoint, this makes no sense at all. No business would create a product that is refundable if it runs its course. If anything, the A.I. would be programmed to stay with him and help him through everything in order to avoid any potential refund. This could have been done as a subscription.

Second, The mother A.I. showing up in the end sorta came out of left field for me. The mother’s death was mentioned twice in the piece, but there’s no hint that the narrator would have brought her back like this.

Third, the dialogue between the narrator and his 3rd-grade daughter doesn’t feel or sound natural. I substitute teach (sometimes in 3rd-grade classrooms) and it felt like the daughter in this piece was older than that. (C-)

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