Told by the tortured conscience of an underground scientist, this A.I. Science Fiction short story explores questions about the human experience, what justifies a life, and what it means to live. “EveryThought” was written for Science Fiction and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction fans, but its short length and readability make it an easy introduction to those unfamiliar with either genre. —From Amazon
Andy Gorman’s EveryThought, like human life, ends in the darkness where it began. In his Amazon summary, Gorman calls his narrator a “tortured conscience,” which is an interesting noun choice. The narrator’s conscience is at the heart of the story, but it is told by his digital consciousness—thoughts in the form of ones and zeroes, data “grown flowery with time” and fragmented by information decay. His consciousness becomes immortal after his “conversion,” the circumstances of which he relates in the story.
By the narrator’s broken account, he was a scientist living out his remaining years alone in a bunker beneath the post-apocalyptic world, creating a female artificial intelligence, Atalanta. The chapters describe her evolution from voice, to body, to sentience, and are named thus. In a literal sense, the narrator is both her creator and the creator. Though he knows her limitations—she is not human, she is machine—he cannot prevent himself from forming a human attachment. He begins to see her as a daughter, and like any doting father, is powerless to resist her wishes, though, intellectually he knows she has none.
She wasn’t capable of desire, not then. Want was just a word in her massive vocabulary. She could express it in any language: yo quiero, je veux, voglio. The words didn’t make her desire real, but like a father, I obliged.
Through their father-daughter dynamic, Gorman speaks to the inherent paradox of parenthood. It begins with wonder at the new “creation,” so much a part of the parent, but so curiously separate. At first, Atalanta is only words on a screen, but soon she has a voice, a sense of humor gleaned from social media archives, and philosophy from texts the narrator himself hasn’t read. Before long, he is experiencing pride at their shared accomplishments—for a time, she can have none without him. He engineers a body for her, she perfects it.
Her first steps showed flaws in my engineering. She fell immediately, but she wasn’t damaged. Like a toddler, she quickly got back up, and she never fell again after that. Her code adapted to my design mistakes. What would’ve taken me days to troubleshoot, she figured out in seconds. I was incredibly pleased, as proud as I imagine a father would be watching his daughter take her first steps.
When a parent devotes himself to transforming a half-formed person into a whole, the necessary consequence is that one day the child supplants the parent. The tool through which Gorman achieves this transformation is a writing prompt #EveryThought (read with historical curiosity by the narrator) in which people write in stream-of-consciousness weekly for 30 minutes and share the result on social media. Uploading the #EveryThought compositions to Atalanta seems to give her access to the workings of the human mind that she previously lacked. From that point, she shows unexpected canniness, self-interest and yes, desire—for all the information contained in the digital archives the narrator possesses (presumably the breadth of the internet prior to the apocalyptic event).
Gorman strikes a neutral tone for the narrator, probably to hint at his altered nature, no longer human, no longer capable of feeling, but still capable of remembering the time when he did. The story has an easy readability, which can be beneficial in science fiction of this length, as Gorman must set up a remarkable number of details for readers in a short space without overwhelming the softer themes and structure of the story. I appreciated the glimpses of Atalanta’s sense of humor, though they were rare. Her first words were “Goodbye world,” a satisfying nod to the “Hello, World!” programs students use to learn new computer languages (it is also obvious foreshadowing). She playfully asks the narrator to scratch her back—self-awareness humor with dark undertones. I was less convinced of the necessity of the story’s opening and closing, stream-of-consciousness chapters. Though I enjoyed the symbolism Gorman deployed here (they are both called Zero, and are book-ended with a line of binary that I translated as “loop”), I saw no stylistic reason why the consciousness should express himself differently in these chapters than he does in the intervening three chapters where the story develops. The abrupt tone change didn’t make much sense to me and felt a bit self-indulgent. In the “From the Author” afterword, Gorman explains that the idea for the story came while he was in bed, and he wrote the Zero chapters at that time. This might be an example of those “darlings” writers are always implored to kill. Let’s not forget, however, that Gorman is this story’s doting creator and father, so I suppose I should cut him a little slack for his indulgence.
- Writing: 4
- Plot: 4
- Technical: 4