Alpha (Sunrise Alley)
by Catherine Asaro
Review by Barry Newton
Baen Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416555124
Date: 27 November 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
[Editor's Note: This review originally ran in our September 2006 issue.]
This story continues Asaro's exploration of artificial intelligence and the machine/human interface which was begun with Sunrise Alley. Alpha is a biomechanical being, second-in-command to the late crime boss Charon. She has been captured by a US intelligence agency which is eager to dismantle her, in the hopes of gaining knowledge of her former employer's operations—to say nothing of the details of her construction. The only thing preventing her destruction is the conviction of one man, General Thomas Wharington, that she can more usefully be broken down by persuasion.
Wharington has ample opportunity to hone his powers of persuasion when Alpha escapes captivity and kidnaps her former captor, taking him to a series of hideouts and depots in the hope of finding her maker and master, Charon still alive and in hiding.
This being an Asaro story, much of its interest is in the relationship which develops between the inexhaustible, near-perfect Alpha, and the seriously ill Wharington, who already has one heart attack behind him, and is constantly at risk for the next one, particularly without his medicines. Wharington must constantly attempt to degrade her dedication to her mission, while surviving his own government's efforts to rescue him.
There have been any number of SF treatments of the ethics of ownership of intelligent machines; these also touch on questions of humanity: what makes a man? When does machine intelligence transcend machinery? Asaro takes the discussion beyond intellect and computation, and suggests that the answer might be love. That which can love and be loved is human; what else matters.