Summer Frost – by Blake Crouch

Summer Frost is the last story I’ve read from the Forward series (coincidentally, I realised just now from goodreads that they were supposed to go in a different order… Not that it matters since they aren’t interconnected in any way). My other experiences with the series had been quite mixed, and I confess I only knew Blake Crouch by his reputation, so my expectations were once again very vague and open-ended. If last pick had been a major letdown, however, this time I was pleasantly surprised.

Title: Summer Frost

Author: Blake Crouch

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Publication Date: 17 September 2019

Genre: Science Fiction – Thriller

Pages: 75

Standalone or Series: Standalone (included in Forward, a collection of entirely independent stories by different authors).

Synopsis: Riley, a video game developer, becomes obsessed with one of her creations, Max, who was meant to be a secondary NPC meant to die at the beginning of a game, but that has apparently evolved past their programming. As Max develops more advanced self-awareness, Riley becomes more and more attached to her creature, eventually planning to bring Max out of the simulation and into the real world. But what if Max had been making their own plans – for Riley and for the world at large?

Analysis: Summer Frost is told in first person by Riley, allowing us to see the story through the lenses of her own bias; the prose is clear and efficient, but also able to convey sufficient emotion when required.

The basic premise of the story is that of an AI that unpredictably develops their own will, and of a programmer that is so involved with her creation to neglect her own personal life. It’s not precisely an original concept, if anything it sounds like a classic theme from Asimov on, nevertheless it’s still a very solid one, easily conducive of reflections both on the potentials and perils of technological advancement, and on the nature of consciousness and personhood. Such themes are only briefly explored, given the limited length of the story, however their delivery is effective thanks to Riley’s point of view: when she’s forced to deal with such questions, she might not have all answers, but she feels all their impact due to her personal involvement.

The story also takes questions of gender and race into account, and while Max had been conceived as a conventionally attractive blond woman to conveniently sacrifice in the videogame, once awakened to consciousness they do not see the point to associate with any human group, and they choose to appear androgynous and racially ambiguous. While having characters that elude traditional genders just as an effect of not being human is a bit of a cliché in itself, here in an interesting twist Max rejects their previously designed identity as a sign of their evolving sentience and autonomy, and when Riley refers to them as “they”, it is treated as a sign that she’s excessively humanising Max.

On the top of this we have a engaging and suspenseful plot, that plays on a delicate game of trust and suspicion in which Riley ends up involved, and that skillfully ties together high tech concepts and the nuances of a very unique bond.

Conclusions & Recommendations: I thoroughly enjoyed this story. While it doesn’t especially shine for originality and its potential for depth is obviously constrained by its format, it is very competently executed and satisfying to read. If you’re looking for a short sci-fi thriller, this is surely a good pick.

Content Warning: Death – Violence

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