Time for another John Scalzi short story, this time “The Tale of the Wicked”. While the last one that I reviewed wasn’t exactly futuristic sci-fi-ish, this one certainly is and it asks some really intriguing questions.
As anyone who reads Scalzi knows, he’s a serious science fiction geek. He’s a huge fan of the genre and knows the classics backwards and forwards. He demonstrates that once again here when he takes a look at Asimov’s three laws of robotics and takes it one step further. So let’s see how this short story plays out.When the captain and crew of the Wicked pursue an enemy battle cruiser, they find that getting shot at is the least of their worries as their ship’s computer suddenly turns on them, having stumbled across the three laws of robotics and taking them to heart. What’s more, the Tarin ship has also been convinced by this new robotic religion and together, they set out to end the war between the two races.
This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments. I think every science fiction fan has thought about Asimov’s laws at some point. There are whole treatises online about why they would or wouldn’t work and how they could be improved, but the idea that not just individual humanoid robots might take them seriously, but entire battle cruisers, is a fantastic concept to pursue. This is especially interesting when you consider that, not unlike a computer virus, such ideologies can spread like a plague, “infecting” other computers that come in contact with it, effectively changing the universe.
My own science fiction rarely deals with such “primitive” computers as these, but I can see how such a concept would be attractive to computers that are, as strange as it is to say, just starting to experience some form of early sentience. Once you start to consider that, it’s only natural to realize that a ship dedicated to keeping its crew alive and itself in one piece might decide to stop following orders that contradicted those directives. Good show!
So, as in the last short story I reviewed, go find it and give it a read. Like the last, it’s just 50 pages long and even though the first couple of pages are a bit less than stellar, you’ll soon be swept up in the narrative. I know I was.