Sarah Gailey's micro-short-story STET is a beautiful piece of innovative storytelling that perfectly blends the three ingredients for a perfect piece of science fiction: sharply observed technological speculation that reflects on our present moment; a narrative arc for characters we sympathize with; and a sting in the tail that will stay with you long after the story's been read.
All that in a "story" that consists of a single paragraph of text, its footnotes, and a series of annotations documenting the requested changes made by the piece's fictional author's editor and her responses.
I don't want to delve into too much detail about the dazzling and surprising storytelling here, because it unfolds itself with all the deft, surprising artifice of a paper fortuneteller whose final flap lifts up to reveal an IED that blows your hand off.
But the story's subject is more conventional and a smart piece technological metaphor, interrogating the (overhyped and unrealistic) "trolley problem" to score deep wounds in our contemporary world of algorithmic cruelty and sociopathy. I've made my own modest contribution to the fiction on this subject, and I like to think that my piece works well as a companion to Gailey's wonderful gem.
Below is the text without its metatext; click through to witness the near-miraculous conversion of a dry piece of pretend scholarship into a scorching piece of science fiction.
Section 5.4 — Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty
While Sheenan's Theory of Autonomous Conscience was readily adopted by both scholars and engineers in the early days of Artificial Intelligence programming in passenger and commercial vehicles, contemporary analysis reinterprets Sheenan's perspective to reveal a nuanced understanding of sentience and consciousness. Meanwhile, Foote's On Machinist Identity Policy Ethics produces an analysis of datapertaining to autonomous vehicular manslaughter and AI assessments of the value of various life forms based on programmer input only in the tertiary. Per Foote's assessment of over eighteen years of collected data, autonomous vehicle identity analyses are based primarily on a collected cultural understanding of identity and secondarily on information gathered from scientific databases, to which the AI form unforeseeable connections during the training process. For the full table of Foote's data, see Appendix D.
STET [Sarah Gailey/Fireside Fiction]
(Image: Jorge Royan, CC-BY-SA; Cryteria, CC-BY)