I had heard good things about Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s work, had her on my to-be-read-someday list. An old acquaintance tossed out her name and mentioned that this was a brilliant lesbian cyberpunk story with an overwhelmingly sophisticated vocabulary, but a bit spicy for his taste. Sign me the fuck up! I’m not usually a big sci-fi reader, but I dabble, so I grabbed a copy of And Shall Machines Surrender and dug in.
The worldbuilding sucked me in from page one. It’s got big Blade Runner vibes, but super feminist and super queer. You swim in visuals painted with elegant verbal structures you barely have time to take in as you marvel at the cultural and societal details woven throughout. The tech is both beautiful and intriguing, from Orfea’s falcon replicant to the shape-changing AIs that populate the book.
The author creates a world in which human and machine have fused in interesting new ways—a challenge in a genre that makes its bread and butter there. The story centers around a pair of former lovers hired to investigate an incident involving several human-AI hybrids called haruspex, and questions of human and machine identity infuse the entire story. Orfea is a surgeon who specializes in cybernetic implants, and Krissana is a highly enhanced human on her way to becoming a haruspex.
The couple’s past is rife with passion and betrayal, and the romance that interlaces with the present-day storyline shows electrifying glimpses of what I can only call (fully consensual) cybernetic BDSM. It might be a little strong for some readers, but I personally would have liked to see a bit more of these scenes and of the romance. It’s really interesting, and it absolutely mirrors the character development, shows their history, and maybe even some healing, I think. The couple’s dynamic is my favorite kind: the physically weaker one is in control (let us not forget the title: And Shall Machines Surrender). It also makes me ask questions about the complex way in which human and machine intelligences interact in the book.
Without going into spoiler territory, the artificial intelligences are the book’s strongest element, its most original. I loved the way they are presented, how they organize themselves, how they think as individuals and as collectives. They are characters and societies unto themselves, and fascinating ones at that.
I mentioned the writing before, but I want to circle back around to it, because I have not read prose like this before. It’s rich and fresh and sometimes jarring, but always engaging. The writing really keeps you on your toes. If you’re one who struggles with vocabulary, this will be a killer, but if you want to expand your word-hoard, this book will push you to your limits and make you glad for your effort.
Thank you, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, for writing this book. I’ll definitely be checking out further installments in the series when my brain has recovered.