Blogging the Hugos: Turncoat

“Turncoat”
Steve Rzasa
Category: Best Short Story

As loyal readers may recall, we started off the short fiction categories with a Castalia House gun-porn story about an AI who eventually turns on its masters. As it happens, that’s how we’re finishing the short fiction as well. “Turncoat” is very much from the same mold as “Big Boys Don’t Cry”, right down to the AI anxiety about losing its human crew—these authors seem to get worried about the idea of being replaced by machines even as they get aroused by the concept of having guns integrated directly into one’s body. This one is a spaceship instead of a tank, but otherwise pretty similar (and similarly unpleasant to read about).

The military elements aren’t even interesting; it’s your standard Space Is An Ocean conception of space combat complete with cruisers and battleships. Once you read a story which has actually thought about how relativity and the huge distances involved would affect a battle fought in space, it’s hard to go back to envisioning it as 19th century naval warfare in three dimensions.

I had read a review of this story which stated that the main character, when defecting at the end of the story (hence the title), gives the finger to his former commander. I was curious just how this AI metaphorically flipped the bird, but no—it literally sends an actual picture of a middle finger to the uploaded mind it used to report to. This, besides being just dumb, is written in a way that suggests that a picture of a single disembodied finger was sent, which isn’t really how giving the finger works. But that’s the quality of writing we’re dealing with here. Personally, I’d like to demonstrate how it’s done to the people who nominated this thoroughly mediocre story. But I’ll settle for figuratively giving them the finger by trashing it on my blog.