Review: Summer Frost

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summer Frost is Blake Crouch's sci-fi story of an AI that gains sentience and ultimately goes rogue in predictable fashion.

The story is part of the Forward series from Amazon Publishing - six stories curated by Crouch that explore the impacts of pivotal technologies. The series contains stories that "can be read or listened to in a single thought-provoking sitting." At only 74 pages this is a "novelette", i.e. a very long short story or a very short novel.

I really enjoyed Crouch's Dark Matter so had high hopes for this story, but was not nearly as impressed with it. I think the short form of the novelette is part of what takes it down a notch or two.

Crouch has a way with characters and as with Dark Matter I thought the character development here was really good. I empathized with the main character Riley, and her workaholic obsession with her AI creation (named Max), as well as her troubles in her relationship with her boss, and her wife and child.

But I found the story of the evolution of Max to be spotty and problematic. First of all, a character in a computer game inexplicably begins to act "against her programming", and Riley her creator has no idea why? Doesn't sound likely, does it?

After that immaculate conception for Max it's then a classic Frankenstein's monster story writ large. (One wrinkle on that comparison is that Max, having no physical form at first, comes to consider itself non-human and thus non-gendered. A non binary AI, referred to as "they" rather than "he" or "she", struck me as an apt updating of the monster.)

As Max grows and amasses data on humanity, the conclusions that they come to regarding what's best for humanity don't seem to come naturally out of the story but just seem to be there because that's what we expect an "evil AI" to think/do. Even Riley's emphasis that the character Max's origin was as a bit player who was only meant to die (and apparently did so a number of times during development) seemed more of a crutch than an effective plot device. Further exploration of Max's origin, and of Max's own perspective as their consciousness grew would have helped make this a better story.

As it is, the story for me is two and 1/2 to three stars.

I read the audiobook narrated by Rosa Salazar, who did a great job.

Summer Frost links (note - this novelette is available on it's own as a Kindle or Audible book from Amazon, or as part of a collection of three stories in the limited edition A Little Orange Book of Obsessions. The AbeBooks link is for the collection.)

Buy it New:  Buy this book new on Amazon
Buy it Used: Buy this book used on AbeBooks