Silently and Very Fast is written by someone who comfortably moves through the entire idea space of AI-themed science fiction and at the same time manages to marry it with a command of prose that is a rare delight and rarely seen with such skill. The last time probably was Roger Zelazny and he’s long gone. Some of this came as a bit of surprise, not the prose per se, but that Catherynne M. Valente does high concept science fiction so easily, since her output so far was more or less fantasy.
I don’t think the overall thrust of her story is per se original, but then it’s been years since I’ve seen something original in that regard. The realization that creating AIs is more than just tossing some smart algorithms together, that problems once thought easy and simple might be much harder to solve. That creating an AI will take just as much or more work as raising a child, a lifetime or many generations to get something resembling a human-equivalent AI. That the process might change the humans involved just as much as the AI thought was an original detail I haven’t seen like this elsewhere.
I also immensely liked that Valente’s story deftly avoided the twin-specter of Skynet and Data, incorporated the overused singularity concept without looking stupid by doing so and gave us a version of the Turing test that did the same as Dan Simmon’s did with his Hyperion Cantos, only with less wordiness and by funneling meaning back into the metaphor instead of letting it look like a cheap Hollywood-cliche. Silently and Very Fast is a rare treat and I wish there was more science fiction like it.