Downloading Midnight (1995)

Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 1996 6/14

Downloading Midnight is the type of science fiction story that proposes a future where a slight but significant change in social norms has created a society that feels entirely alien. Romantic (though even then it feels mostly platonic) interaction between individuals is heavily regulated by interpersonal contracts, physical relationships basically abandoned and declared perverse. Meanwhile AIs spin porn movies from uploaded human templates, because the real thing done by real humans would be immoral and cause for prosecution.

Despite all that, the characters remain relatable, mostly because those social changes haven’t managed to change human nature at all. People want certain things and go to criminal lengths to get it.

There’s a sort of cyberspace equivalent of the Internet that is slowly corrupted by one of the AI-driven porn actors, and the mystery behind that is what sets up the story and leads to the final mystery that is both sickening and all too fitting.

Well written, but I had a hard time suspending my disbelieve for the setting, not because it’s impossible, but because it feels so impossible to get there from our present one. Which shows that the social changes are harder to process than futuristic technology.