Emily Moore's Reviews > Engineer Smith

Engineer Smith by Jay Lancaster
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's review
Aug 19, 2011

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bookshelves: ebook, transgender, tdb-reviews, 2010-reads, science-fiction

3.5 stars


Engineer Smith has a real connection to computers, especially the Artificial Intelligence system Larn who Smith talks to on a regular basis. Larn has been learning to be more "human" thanks to the interactions with Smith, while Smith struggles with a multitude of worries and the state of the relationship with lover Nell. The answers Smith seeks will be found thanks to the help and insight of Larn, but it is up to Smith to embrace and apply the information.

Engineer Smith is an intriguing short story set in a futuristic setting where computers can be programmed to learn and adapt to be quite human. The story is well written and provides necessary details while remaining vague about many points. It's a story that most definitely needs to be read more than once to pick up on the subtle nuances, and to better understand the character of Smith. With each reading, more is pulled out of the tale and the economical style of writing falls in line with the underlying theme of the story.

The central aspect of this story is Smith, an androgynous being who is clearly transgender, though the gender of the character is never revealed. The story remains vague on this point throughout, and considering the internal struggle that Smith is wrestling with this is understandable. The effect it has is to leave the reader guessing, but it also provides a particular insight into what Smith deals with on a daily basis.

Though a computer program, Larn is a critical character within the story and the dialogue and insight presented from it, or him if you accept the anthropomorphistic possibilities, never lets the reader forget that Smith is interacting with a computer program. At the same time, it's hard not to be fascinated by how Larn breaks down Smith's issues to clear pieces in a way that is both human and inhuman.

This is a quick story but one that is quite interesting. It doesn't focus directly on Smith struggling with gender identity, but the uncertainty with a relationship and worries over life in general are undoubtedly connected to that theme. This is a unique examination of a transgender individual's quest to be happy with life, and how a computer program can help a human learn to be human.

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