Tideline by Bear, Elizabeth, 2007

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Tideline by Elizabeth Bear is one of those really interesting stories that makes you wish, after you have finished, that the author had written more; that there was more to the story, because it was just so engrossing. Itís about a decrepit robot who manages to reach past programming and show a real interest in life, while awaiting her own destruction. Four out of five stars.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Chalcedony was a badly damaged battle robot with a feminine personality. She was the sole "survivor" of a future devastating battle near Atlanta. Very few of chalcedony's systems worked, she was trapped on a beach with high cliff walls and was too damaged to climb out, and winter was coming. Chalcedony knew that once the sun's rays grew dim she would be unable to charge her damaged batteries and she would be washed out to sea. She lived on the beach with a human boy named Belvedere who helped her collect gem stones. Chalcedony protected the near feral boy and taught him how to hunt, fish, trap and forage to survive. The gem stones were for necklaces that Chalcedony was making as memorials to her fallen human comrades, though at first she was unable to decide why she was going to the trouble. Belvedere was a wild-boy with no education who probably grew up alone in the wilderness, and couldn't be more different than Chalcedony, who took her military background and programming extremely seriously. When the two first met Belvedere did not even know how to make a fire to cook the clams that he dug from the surf. But Chalcedony taught him as well as she could how to thrive, and then told him the story of her military unit.

I don't know if Chalcedony was supposed to have human-like programming of if she was a cyborg. Bear called her a robot, and if she was then this story is about a robot surpassing the bounds of its programming and making a difference in the world. Chalcedony was originally programmed to kill and destroy. She had a body that struck fear into the hearts of just about everyone around her, including the human soldiers she worked with. But they eventually grew to know her and trust her, and maybe even love her. She certainly loved them and did whatever she could to take care of them, but the enemy was too strong and they all died. When Chalcedony met the boy, Belvedere, she already knew that she would never be a fighter again; that she had been abandoned for junk by her former remote commanders. But what she did was to take those good experiences that she had shared with the soldiers, her comrades, and taught the solitary boy how to love and care for others too. She instilled her senses of honor and duty into him and gave him a mission. She told him to take the necklaces that she had made and find other people who had it in their hearts to care for others too, and tell them the stories about the soldiers which they memorialized. A tall order in this civilization, where bandits would kill you for a sack of clams, but the boy took to it. Chalcedony likened Belvedere to a knight errant and sent him out to find others.

The story ended there as Chalcedony's batteries failed, but the clear implication (clear to me, anyway) is that the boy was being sent out to start building civilization up again. There were very few living humans left, and Chalcedony wanted Belvedere to find them and give them legends to bind them together. This is one of those stories where thinking about what came next may be just a bit better than reading the story itself. This is my first Bear story ever, and I honestly can't wait to find more.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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