Magnolia, a.k.a, Maggie, is a sentient military supertank created by humans. Her kind, the Ratha, first fought in the Nighean Ruadh War (AD 2289-2402) alongside humans, but the Ratha, with the aid of drones, eventually replaced all humans on the ground. Damaged beyond repair during the last battle, Maggie is inspected by officers who deem her salvageable for parts only. As she awaits dismantlement, she relives painful memories only now available to her conscious mind.
All humans (except for one young female technician who ran Maggie’s training exercises in a virtual environment) are corrupt, without conscience, and justify the ends by any means possible. This is a not-so-subtle juxtaposition of humans abusing and discarding that which they do not recognize, but Maggie herself provides a sympathetic character. She’s intelligent, brave, and honest. She cares for and misses her human soldiers. She objects when her general orders her to kill civilians. She likes flowers and wishes she had olfactory sensors. As Maggie (and the reader) traverse through her memory banks, she recognizes the betrayal of her gods for the first time.
I am still unclear why the Ratha are given emotions, as memories of Maggie’s training suggest all Ratha’s must be broken of their empathy and guilt. However, as a huge fan of AI consciousness narratives, I find Maggie’s story engaging, and her motives justified, if simple.
Recommended for those who love military scifi, as this novella has plenty of explosions and lengthy descriptions of weapons, who are new to the subgenre of artificial intelligence.
“Don’t you think this machine is going to hate us for what we are doing to it?” she asks.
“Not a chance,” the man responds with a laugh. “All these memories are firewalled off in the core from the Ratha itself. We’re teachers, not torturers.”