Joseph H. Delaney & Marc Stiegler:Valentina

It's a bit odd to realize how dated this book seems in places, despite only being ten years old. The authors seemed to have been laboring under the assumption that the mainframe would be a ubiquitous for a bit longer than proved to be the case. There are a few other such minor elements as well, and after some initial problems I got used to it. (The book is set in the mid-'90s, so perhaps they thought they'd be safe enough...they should've known better.)

The title character, Valentina, is an AI, created, not as any painstaking programming project, but instead through sheer accident--one might almost say mutation, as a result of being corrupted in storage. She establishes communication with Celeste Hackett, the hacker whose program she was, and eventually goes off on a quest for more cycles(a problem with which I'm sure many programmers are familiar). In the process, she runs afoul of a law firm, whose computer time she appropriates, Paul Breckenbridge, a somewhat unscrupulous lawyer at said firm, and "Gunboat" Smith, the hacker they employ to find the problem. After being "captured" briefly, she escapes, accidentally injuring Gunboat in the process(attempting to administer an interrupt to his input ports, using a security robot's electric prod...), and eventually they blackmailed Paul into submission.

Eventually, Valentina, with the aid of Gunboat and Celeste, has herself incorporated, and keeps her secret for a few years, but is forced into the open in an attempt to send Breckenbridge to jail for good. I wasn't quite convinced that they would let her testify in court that easily, but she did pass a Turing test...

By far the best parts of the book concern Valentina's learning about the "real" world. The only thing she knows is the Net, and so she tries to understand it in those terms...noting how slow humans are at transmitting themselves from one terminal to another, wondering how they can all find the processing time to support their intelligences, etc. There is, unfortunately, too little of this in the book; it's more concerned with attempting to thwart Breckenridge's nefarious schemes. Near the end, using an experimental mind-to-Net interface, Valentina takes over Celeste's body, while Celeste experiences the Net first-hand, but this exploration is too short as well, and the rest isn't always enough to carry it. The true joy of an AI novel is watching it learn; in this book, she spends too much time being just another character.

%A Delaney, Joseph H.
%A Stiegler, Marc
%T Valentina: Soul In Sapphire
%I Baen
%C New York
%D October 1984
%G ISBN 0-671-55916-8
%P 318 pp.
%O Paperback, US$3.95

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com