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Helene (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

An interesting development that has emerged with the ready availability of ebooks is the revival of the novella, sometimes as a way of filling in bits of backstory or short additional tales in a series. In Helene, Karl Drinkwater has done just this, giving some of the backstory to his effective Lost Solace novels.

In these books, the main character Opal has stolen an experimental spaceship with a revolutionary artificial intelligence (AI). Here we discover how that AI came to have the individuality and personality that makes it special.

Helene is primarily a two-hander between 'AI socialisation specialist' Helene Vermalle and the AI ViraUHX, who will become Opal's AI. There are other characters, notably the pantomime villain/Harkonnenesque 'Sector Primogenitur' Gillesto Lainy, but the story very much centres on the relationship between Helene and the AI, and the way that the AI develops. As a result, a lot of the novella is conversation - but there's some really interesting and engaging stuff exploring how an AI might learn to become near-human.

Overall I enjoyed it - like all such independently-sold novellas it felt distinctly short (but, of course, you pay less). After a shock near the end, I felt we the readers were left with a bit too much hanging, presumably for a second novella, to be filled in before we reach the start of Lost Solace - but even so, a worthy addition to the series.
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Review by Brian Clegg


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