Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ex Machina, by Margaret Ronald

Ex Machina
Margaret Ronald
Strange Horizons: May 28, 2007

A band of tinkers travel up a mountain following a call which only they can hear. They are seeking a particular building in a valley, but get sidetracked by helping others fix their mechanical equipment. On the mountain they stop at Hollow Base, a military base, and work on equipment there. Judith, the "lead" tinker who claims to not be in charge, is the focus of the story. She tries not to be overwhelmed by her "techsense", which is when all of the details of the technology flashes through her mind to the exclusion of everything else. Certain tinkers are gifted with this "techsense". Judith is warned that the commander is not what he seems to be.
The room was as bare as the rest of the base, though there were a few traces of personality. Several stools lined one wall, facing the broad desk and its cushioned chair. A broken base station for the communicators trailed wires over the top of the cabinet. Judith bit her lip. Exhaustion and techtrance gnawed at her, and the urge to take the damn thing down and fix it swelled like hunger in her.

"He could come back at any minute," she muttered aloud. On the other hand, her techsense whispered, better to do it now than succumb in the middle of a conversation. . . .

She could even see where it was broken. . . .
Ex Machina is a story not about technology, but about those who can truly understand technology and how technology can be misused in the hands of those looking only for personal greed. The first couple pages are tough because the reader attempts to figure out what this techsense is what the main thrust of the story is. Ex Machina only picks up and becomes more immediate midway through the story when Judith and the Tinkers are spending their first night at Hollow Base. At this point more of what is truly occurring becomes clear and the threat is realized.

Ex Machina is not the most outstanding story we will read in any given year, but the last nine of the eighteen pages make the story worth reading. There is no true explanation of what techsense is or how it works, but we just have to take it as something that does not need any more explanation other than the fact that it does work. Decent story.

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