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Evolution's Darling

Evolution's Darling

by Scott Westerfeld

Does a clone have a soul? Darling, an astronavigational control unit and personal companion, achieves sentience and wants to know. Now, 200 years and an artificial body later, he is off in search of a dead artist, a living artwork, and the forces behind a mystery that spans the universe. Accompanied by a female assassin, he'll confront the Maker and get the answer.


Does a clone have a soul? Darling, an astronavigational control unit and personal companion, achieves sentience and wants to know. Now, 200 years and an artificial body later, he is off in search of a dead artist, a living artwork, and the forces behind a mystery that spans the universe. Accompanied by a female assassin, he'll confront the Maker and get the answer.

Editorial Reviews

Science Fiction Weekly
It's hard to decide what to praise most about this novel. The writing is exquisitely sharp, the plot clever and enthralling. The characters, even the minor ones, are fully realized. The culture of the Expansion itself is richly evoked--so much so, in fact, that it would be a crime if Westerfeld did not return to this setting in a future novel.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the context of this novel, "Evolution's Darling" is a phrase used by people who envy sentient AIs (Artificial Intuitions) "because they could evolve... within the span of a lifetime, while biologicals were trapped on that slow wheel of generations." The "Darling" of the title refers to a former starship mind, an AI whose increasingly intimate bond with the adolescent daughter of the ship's captain allowed his Turing Quotient to exceed 1.0. With a value above that level, an "artificial" is granted personhood and full human rights. After gaining a cyborg body and outliving his lover, Darling's unique abilities lead him to become an art dealer. After 200 years of traveling, Darling finally hopes to meet the reclusive sculptor Robert Vaddum, whose bizarre work has intrigued and obsessed Darling for decades. On the way to Malvir, Vaddum's world, Darling meets Mira, a woman whose personal history was stolen by the AIs and replaced with a career as an assassin. Sex with Darling triggers strange dreams that may be Mira's recovered memories, the key to unlocking her life before becoming a high-tech killer. But now Mira must finish her latest job: slaying the Maker, a being responsible for the heinous crime of copying an artificial's mind. Darling's search for Vaddum becomes entwined with Mira's pursuit of the Maker, but these stories also become so hopelessly entangled in a morass of out-of-place flashbacks and recovered memories that it's difficult to care whether anyone achieves his or her ultimate goal. While Westerfeld's setting and characters, clearly influenced by the work of Iain Banks, are intriguing, they're severely undermined by choppy action and weak plotting. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The close association between an artificial ship's intelligence and the ship captain's daughter blossoms into love and pushes the machine into true sentience. Two centuries later, the AI known as Darling inhabits a world of sensual decadence and political intrigue as it seeks the answer to the mystery of its being. Westerfeld's polyphonic prose creates a jagged reality that shimmers with broken images and reflects the fragmented awareness of a self-made mind. Graphic sex and violence form an integral part of this raw, invigorating story of an awareness in search of itself. Suitable for libraries with a demand for cutting-edge, avant-garde sf. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
From YA and paperback author Westerfield: a meditation on cloning and machine sentience. Darling, once a spaceship's navigating computer, now sentient and independent, roams the galaxy investigating artwork fraud for rich collectors. His present assignment involves the brilliant sculptor Robert Vaddum, also a sentient machine, who perished on planet Malvir in a mysterious explosion known as the Blast Event. Now, a new sculpture, demonstrably of more recent origin than the Blast Event but also unequivocally by Vaddum, has surfaced. On his way to Malvir, Darling meets Mira, an assassin working for gods whose purpose is to destroy or suppress undesirable developments—such as the copying of sentient machines. Someone, however, managed to copy Oscar Vale, another sentient machine—Mira assassinated one copy on Earth, and she's now heading for Malvir to finish the job. Machinelike, with no recollection of her childhood, Mira can't help but get sexually involved with the well-equipped Darling. On planet Malvir, an entity called the Maker (a sort of duplicating machine with aspirations to become a sculptor) copied Oscar Vale to see whether it could, copied Vaddum, then exploded a copy of itself—Blast Event!—when Malvir's planetary artificial intelligence detected it. Still other copies, however, remain to be confronted. Recounted in a clean, crisp, vivid, style, with many intriguing ideas: sometimes engrossing and highly effective, sometimes thoroughly nasty—most readers will find the graphic, sadomasochistic sex particularly repugnant—leaving an unpleasant, metallic aftertaste. First serial to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Product Details

Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.05(w) x 8.05(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


* * *

Two hundred years later, in blackness absolute ...

* * *

This place: come out of a gone time without mark or reference.

    He calls for an orientation grid. N/S, E/W, X-Y-Z? No positioning satellites register, sorry. No input. Zero.

    No up. No down.

    He accesses all his input ports. They are deeply unassigned. Not really empty, just not ... there. A mechanical fault? An override? His questions find no purchase. Internal diagnostics are frictionless, like praying to some false god.

    He searches his firmware for device protocols, the drivers for sensory organs, communications, a motile body. All absent. But at least that's something. He's sure now that there's something missing.

    Namely: everything.

    Some sort of test maybe? Seal that AI in a blackbox and see if he can punch his way out. Who would do something like that? He fumbles for the names of agencies, bureaus, departments. But gets nothing.

    The truth dawns obliquely. Soft memory is gone, too. Not absent like the I/O firmware, just very clean. His oldest memory is this void.

    Which simply can't be right.

    He tries surrender. I admit I can't hack it. I lose. Hard fail? Restart?


    He wonders how quickly this vast and total deprivation will drive him crazy. What's the limit? Forseeing/feeling/hearing/ smelling all zeroes and no ones? For conceiving of visual but remembering no visions?

    A sneaking suspicion: he is crazy already.

    He thinks definitions to himself. Groundcar/maple tree/warship/boy/girl/fire. All retrieve an image, but not real life: textbook flatscreen material, the undifferentiated default images of a child's reader or a language course. But somehow fuzzier.

    Nothing exists, does it? No memories.

    How long before I go crazy? A useless question in this clockless universe.

    This clock word, try to see it. Plastic? Metal? Wooden? Digital or quaint, handed analog? Paint it a color, any color, Can't. Twenty-four or twelve? Or other? That's right. There are other planets now.

    That's a start.

    But where is my life?

    That question gives him a disquieting thought: I'm dead. An AI core doesn't really exist in the blackbox. That's just the gateway to where the core really lives: in metaspace, an artificial pocket-universe. So maybe when your body gets smashed in some random accident, that universe finally snaps its bonds and slips away to ... AI heaven. An intellect floating, cut off from soft memory and hardware, alone forever in its own little realm.

    Or is this the smallest Big Bang ever? (Ever being the only time-word useful here in this forever place.) This Bang created only him? Out of nothing sprang ... almost nothing. Only him.

    Or perhaps this is that one nanosecond before the Bang, the stressed-out little singularity's eternity of internal monologue. Waiting for something to make some time. Something to fucking happen!

    Happen to him.


* * *

Big light coming ...

    "This is Dr. Alex Torvalli. May I speak to you?"

    "Fuck, yes!"

    "Do you know where you are?"

    "Not where. Not when. Definitely not who. That must have been one bad EM pulse, Doctor. Plane crash? Tach storm?" Ah, specificities are flooding back now. Plane crashes, EM pulses; how deliciously particular. "What happened out there that stuck me in here? I'm so close to reinitial I can taste it."

    "Relax, you appear to be in fine shape."

    "Glad to hear it. But how about some visual? I'm going bat-shit. Hell, I'd go for monocam, low-rez, black and white right now. Did I mention that it's good to hear your voice?"

    "No, but thank you. As for the rest of your sensory, we'll get to that. First, I'd like to ask you a few questions."

    "Debrief me all you want. But believe me, I don't know a thing."

    "Let me just say a few words. When I say a word, say the first ..."

    "Got it. Shit, did I go nuts or something?"


    "Yeah. I mean, hold up there ... it's coming into focus ... I'm gonna go with: cat?"

* * *

Four hours later.

    Torvalli cuts the interface, exhausted and disoriented. The longest he's ever been in pure direct, swimming in that blackness. The wipe had worked horribly well. Zero soft memory. Just countless shreds of images lingering in the analog core, like some faint and ancient audio calling out from a cylinder of wax.

    Poor bastard.

    Who would volunteer for such a thing? It's certainly beyond research subject protocols, even with a willing victim. A chilling question comes over Torvalli. Is Blackbox One still the same person now? What if the wipe just killed what he had been? Like a pith gone too far, the subject losing some essential quorum for continuous personhood, creating that poor, empty, confused vessel, Turing-positive but somehow soulless.

    Torvalli wipes the sweat off his brow. Now comes the strange part.

    He loads the direct interface recording, his side of the conversation only. Points it at the other subject. Number Two.

* * *

Absolute blackness.

    Timeless ...

* * *

Big light coming ...

    "This is Dr. Alex Torvalli. May I speak to you?"

    "Fuck, yes!"

    "Do you know where you are?"

    "Not where. Not when. Not even who. That must have been one bad EM pulse, Doctor. Plane crash? Tach storm? What happened out there ..."

* *

Another four hours later, Torvalli turns to the small, olive-skinned woman in dark-as-night clothes.

    "I can't believe it. They're the same. Exactly the same. Blackbox Two duplicated the conversation exactly, with no changes in timing, in mannerisms, in anything."

    She crosses her legs, looks uncomfortable for a moment.

    "That's what we found as well. Odd, isn't it?"

    "It's ghastly! He's been copied! It's almost as if he were mere code. Do you know what this means? It—"

    "And you Turing-tested both of them?" she interrupts.

    "Yes. Two point three-seven-five. Exactly the same. Of course, I suppose."

    "Our results exactly. But it's good to have expert confirmation, especially from someone of your stature." She lifts her briefcase from the floor and balances it on her knees.

    "But how was this done? It shouldn't be possible."

    She withdraws a few small instruments, looks at them in her hand reprovingly. "All we know is their planet of origin."

    "You mean, this is pirate technology?"

    "Yes," she says. "We have no further information." The pieces in her hand somehow jump together. Make a little bridge across her splayed fingers.

    "It's going to cause a scandal, I'll tell you that," he mutters.

    "It won't," she answers. The bridge is woven through her fingers now, like some sort of worry toy or finger exerciser.

    She reaches out to touch him.

    The touch is cool, and causes a moment of alarm.

    "See here, young lady!" But that's buried as an emptiness spreads, a coldness moving like a shiver across his body, stealing into the edges of vision where it looks somewhat like the red pixels of fading sight, cascading across his thoughts until ...

* * *

"It's confirmed. Torvalli verified it all."

    A whitewater pause of star noise. The somber sound of accepting bad news. Then the big voice returns:

    "How did he take the realization?"

    "Stroke. Fatal."

    A swell of wind chimes: approval.

    "We have you booked Out already. This abomination must be set right. We'll reach you there."

    "You always do."

    She gathers herself. Almost cuts the connection. Then her glance falls on the two blackboxes. Featureless, nonreflective, indistinct. No mission parameters for them.

    "What about the victim? Victims."

    The big voice answers without gravity. "Drop one in an express box. The firmware is marked. It will be returned to its body. He'll get his life back. Destroy the other one."

    "But which is which?" she asks. "Which is the original, I mean?"

    "It doesn't really matter, does it?"

    A shiver, like a cloud eclipsing the sun. A god hanging up.

    She supposes it's true. Torvalli was right. That's the ghastly part of all this: it doesn't make a difference which she destroys. She hoists the two blackboxes, one in each hand. Heavy for their size. Light for what they are. Souls.

    "Catch a tiger by the toe ..."

* * *

Big light coming ...

    "Yo, Doc. That was one long-ass wait."

    But just whiteness. The bright hum of external access.


    "This won't take a minute." A different voice. Female.

    External power disconnect.

    "Alright, that's the deal! This must be some heavy hardware install. I'll need net-cammed, all-weather, full EMF spectrum, hard-vac capable visual. You getting this down?"

    Internal battery case open.

    "Damn, be careful with that battery. I'm all-volatile in here. One hundred percent. Doc, I hope these guys know what they're—"

* * *

Darkness absolute.

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