Alyssa Cole dipping her toe into science fiction should be plenty to entice most readers. It’s also a short read, which if you read science fiction, you know is as rare as a diamond not mined by children and used to fund war crimes.
Plot: Trinity used to work for the Hive, a fairly blatant near future proxy for google, but after an accident left her badly injured, she’s mostly just kind of there. She works from home pretending to be the AI of a self-driving car, does physio, and hangs out with a couple friends. Then Li Wei moves into the unit next to hers, and things. Get. Weird. There’s the instant attraction, something she didn’t believe she was capable of anymore, but also a sense of familiarity and Li Wei’s very, very strange behaviour. Almost like he’s not quite human, except that’s obviously impossible. Shenanigans ensue.
This novella is what I think of as low science fiction, in the vein of Her. The science fiction elements are all there, but they are muted. The whys of this future are self evident and Cole wastes no time exploring again what many, many other stories have touched on with respect to the dangers of unchecked scientific advancement to further the goals of private corporations or whether artificial intelligence can rise to the status of personhood. She assumes you know all this stuff and gets straight to the good stuff.
Despite this being a novella, the characters are wonderfully well drawn out. The story unfolds slowly, like the hot summer days the story is set in. The world feels familiar. The “advancements” are a minute in the future, but the world still looks and feels mostly the same. You might also think, especially if you’ve read a lot of romance and/or a lot of science fiction, that you know the direction this story is going to take, but I promise you, Cole will find a way to surprise you, and do it in a way that seems obvious in retrospect.
It takes a lot of talent to write a good, standalone novella, and while I would love to see more of what happens next for Trinity and Li Wei, it is in the way of a good book ending before you are ready rather than because it wasn’t a complete story.