Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected • novella by Steven Popkes

★★★★1/2

Meta: ISFDB. First published December 2012 in Asimov’s. I’ve read it in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection.

Sometimes you know that you’re going to like a story within the first couple of sentences. This is one of them.

One hit wonder musician Jake Mulcahey takes a job to revise a song from a divaloid A.I. artist called Dot introduced by his former girl-friend. Money is good, so Jake overcomes his initial hostility and starts to treat the A.I. as a person.

The story works towards its peak in a concert. On the way towards that peak, Jake’s history with his girl-friend and his ex-band colleagues is told.

Ususally, you expect some technical babble about laser pistols, alien behaviour or spaceship drives. This time, you’ll have to get accustomed to discussions about complex beats, bass lines, and musical terms like glissando or shifiting keys. Fascinating. But also about computer programming terms like genetic algorithms or the Turing Test. I think that Popkes is clearly better on the music side although that musical part was sometimes quite heavy.

It was a good discussion about who manipulates whom in the four corners of relationships (Jake, his former girlfriend, Dot and his former band) and the questions if A.I. can feel and produce and perform good music.

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