Intelligent Design

In which Trealla Fantrol gets a new butler.

This is another story where I wonder how it comes over to a reader who hadn’t read any of the later-set novels featuring yos’Galan’s robot butler, and who therefore didn’t know where it was going from the moment Roderick Spode appeared. (I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of Roderick Spode. The story gives us no cause to suppose that that wasn’t actually his name, but it seems like a bit of a tidy coincidence if it was.)

Incidentally, I notice Jeeves is not the only inhabitant of Trealla Fantrol mentioned here with a name from a Terran story: the cat Merlin, mentioned as an earlier beneficiary of Val Con’s hunches, is another. Presumably that means he’s a more recent arrival than Anne.

It’s interesting that Val Con’s sense for a person in danger responds just as much to a machine person as to a living creature, but it cuts in both directions. There’s the obvious implication that the retired unit is a real person despite being composed of wires and code. But there’s a complication introduced in the fact that he was sending out a distress signal at the time Val Con got his hunch: assuming for the sake of discussion that it’s not just a coincidence, the idea that the distress signal might have actually been what triggered the hunch suggests that on some level technological signals and psychic communication might be the same thing. And after some of the sufficiently-advanced-technology shenanigans that went on the prequel duology, I definitely suspect the authors of doing this deliberately.

This is one of the stories that doesn’t have a definite position in the chronological order. Shan is not yet 20 Standard Years old, which is about the most solid indicator in the story. It’s set approximately around the same time as “Heirloom”, and I take it to be somewhat after, since there’s mention of Nova serving an apprenticeship with Luken and she didn’t seem in “Heirloom” to have had much previous involvement with Luken’s trade.


Tomorrow: “A Matter of Dreams”

16 thoughts on “Intelligent Design

  1. daeclu

    A cat in distress and an AI sending out a distress signal ought to be very diffrent matters. And those might not be the only situations where someone from Korval rescues a creature in need. Hevelin comes to mind as well. Or lifemates in general. It always includes some sort of rescue, often at gunpoint.
    If Val Con and Co would be able to read distress calls as such, they’d be pretty busy on any planet and might only come to rest in space, far away from any world. It seems that there’s quite a lot of sorting (whom to rescue) and chance (meeting these people) involved.
    Perhaps he doesn’t receive distress calls but rather unconsciously “sees” that walking in one direction will yield better long-term options than other paths. That was after all an important factor in making the escape from the universe that existed before. And those who had these capabilities did bred with Korval, passing (according to the series’ logic) those genes on.

  2. daeclu

    Another point: Are the fleets the AIs controlled related to the ones Jela mentionned in Crystal Soldier? Those that enslaved entire planets, demanding ressources for their fight? None of the worlds we’ve seen so far seems capable of developing AIs.

  3. Paul A. Post author

    I don’t think this AI fleet is directly related to the ones Jela mentioned in Crystal Soldier, for a number of reasons. One is that it seems to have been decommissioned reasonably straightforwardly and without difficulty, with no mention of going out of control and enslaving planets. (I get the impression that one of the reasons the fleet AIs were decommissioned as soon as the battle was won was that their creators were afraid they might go out of control, but that’s not the same thing.) Another reason is that if Jeeves were some remnant of an AI from pre-Migration times, he’d be Old Technology, and that would surely have been an insuperable black mark when he was being tested to see if he was safe to live at Trealla Fantrol.

    AIs on the same level as Jeeves, which qualify as persons, are rare (although I can think of at least one other that has a significant presence in the series, and which was explicitly created after the Great Migration), but there are robots about. Liadens don’t seem to go in for them much, but some Terran planets do, like Pomerloo in this story, and Lufkit in Agent of Change, where there are several mentions of robots doing menial tasks like cleaning hotels and driving taxis.

  4. daeclu

    That’s right, there are some robots and some technology about; yet most of the time the books would work fine if they’d use sailing ships instead of space ships. I sometimes wonder how they manage to go to space at all.

  5. Skip

    I think Val Con is about 12 years old. Maybe 15. Shan is about 6 years older than him, and yet the story states that Shan is not old enough to drink alcohol at the port.

    Jeeves is one of the three self-aware admirals made for the Terran wars 700 years ago. See ghost ship, Saltation, and Neogenesis. Tocohl, his own daughter, would know best, and she reminds herself that he was an admiral, in Neogenesis.

  6. Ed8r

    a name from a Terran story: the cat Merlin

    Looking ahead to Conflict of Honors we will find somewhat of an explanation for the choice of name.

    “Pendragon? Oh, the fellow with the table. One of Val Con’s favorite stories, I recall. Named one of his infernal felines Merlin.” His frown deepened. “It’s only Uncle Richard’s fancy, Priscilla.

    Chapter: Shipyear 65; Tripday 144; First Shift; 1.30 Hours

  7. Ed8r

    PA: sufficiently-advanced-technology shenanigans that went on the prequel trilogy.

    Paul, what trilogy?

  8. Paul A. Post author

    I meant the Crystal duology, but my fingers apparently decided without consulting me to type a word they were more familiar with.

  9. Paul A. Post author

    Thanks for checking, and feel free to point out if you spot any more places my fingers went their own way.

  10. Ed8r

    This time through, I just kept thinking that I “miss” the first person AI here who became Jeeves. The character continues to be quite active, but so far never in first person POV again.

  11. Ed8r

    Another thought that occurred to me as I read through this time: Is there any possibility that the person called Roderick Spode in this story could be the same “consciousness” we now know by the name Tolly Jones?

  12. Paul A. Post author

    I suppose it’s possible, but it doesn’t strike me as likely.

    I don’t get the impression that Spode is an AI specialist, like Tolly: he says that his job is to tidy up the loose ends after the end of the war, which includes the unit we know as Jeeves but also includes the human soldiers. And he specifically says that he doesn’t believe Jeeves is a real person, which is not the attitude of a mentor.

  13. Ed8r

    Yep, you’ve put your finger on perhaps the most significant point, with the caveat that he could possibly be lying in order to accomplish what he was hired to do. He presumably presented the same decision matrix to the other AIs, who proceeded to make each their own choice to “decommission” themselves.

  14. Skip

    Roderick Spode recently got his own story — or I recently read it. It’s in a multi-author anthology. It’s good!

    Standing Orders by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, in Derelict, edited by David B. Coe and Joshua Palmatier © 2021

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