Pros: An unusual and delightful world
Rating: 5 out of 5
Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s And Shall Machines Surrender reveals a delightfully strange world. Dr. Orfea Leung has arrived at the Shenzhen Dyson sphere, running from her past. She’s a little surprised at how easily the process goes, given how the citizens of Shenzhen tend to view outsiders. She even picks up a job as a surgeon who specializes in cybernetics. On the job she runs into Krissana Khongtip, an old friend who betrayed her. Both women are trying to hide that they used to work very violent jobs for the Alabaster Admiral of the Amaryllis fleet. Shenzhen is home to the Mandate, a society of AIs who broke free of humanity’s control. Krissana is a haruspex candidate, planned to merge with an AI. However, three haruspices commit simultaneous suicide, something that shouldn’t be possible. An AI named Seung Ngo sets Krissana and Orfea to investigate what’s happening. Unfortunately for them, they quickly get caught up in some very dangerous schemes.
I love the names of the AIs in this story. Names like Nataku Contemplates a Flight of Sparrows; Wonsul’s Exegesis; Benzaiten in Autumn. Some AIs go by they/them; others by more unusual pronouns. It’s treated as perfectly normal, which it should be since AIs have been around for a while now. The AIs are definitely not human, and this gradually becomes more clear and more of an issue. The depiction of artificial intelligences is fascinating. It’s also an integral part of the wider worldbuilding, since the AIs have various ways of influencing Shenzhen Sphere’s physicality.
Orfea and Krissana have an interesting relationship. They have feelings for each other, but in saving Orfea’s life Krissana caused her to be seen as a deserter by the Alabaster Admiral, ruining her life and causing her to flee for safety. There’s some lovely dom/sub mildly kinky lesbian sex in here. The women’s relationship is constantly in flux as events change around them, and I found myself caught up in wanting to know how it would work out.
The book covers a fair amount of ground. From AI attitudes about humans to extended fight sequences, there’s something here for almost everyone. I particularly love the schemes and machinations going on. I’d love to see more of this world, especially regarding the Alabaster Admiral, who seems like a fascinating character.