The short story “The Promise of Space” by James Patrick Kelly was published for the first time in 2013.
Astronaut Kirk Anderson was hospitalized in very serious conditions. After being exposed to radiation during a Mars mission he suffered brain damage that made him lose part of their mental faculties. There’s no cure for him but only an attempt to compensate for what he lost using the recordings he made and an artificial intelligence but what really remains of Kirk Anderson?
In the 2051 told by James Patrick Kelly there are artificial intelligence and even the technological Singularity is mentioned and finally manned missions Mars started. All this, however, represents only a frame in which the author shows the story of Kirk Anderson, the first man to set foot on Phobos, one of the Red Planet’s moons.
Exposure to too much radiation in space caused Kirk Anderson brain damage and an artificial intelligence is used to try to support what is left of him but what about the results? His wife Zoe is a science fiction writer so she’s supposed to have an open mind and yet dealing with what seems only an intelligent database is a struggle for her.
James Patrick Kelly uses in “The Promise of Space” some technological basis to tell a story focused on the protagonists’ human side. The artificial intelligence used to try to help Kirk Anderson seems to create just a bad copy of the astronaut. Is it a problem due to a still immature technology or there’s a limit due to the differences between human brains and computers?
The artificial intelligence used to help Kirk Anderson uses a series of recordings made by the astronaut to reproduce his mental processes and yet at the beginning of the story it shows that it can’t understand a Star Trek joke reference. Limits like this end up making the situation for Zoe more painful in a story in which her feelings and her emotions are crucial to understand what’s happening to her husband.
The artificial intelligence’s lack of humanity stresses even more the human element present in “The Promise of Space”. The story is very short and very intense in showing Kirk Anderson and his wife Zoe’s drama. It’s a sad story that in the end leaves many doubts in the reader and I think that’s the reason why it should be read. It’s also available together with “Surprise Party” in an ebook edition on Amazon USA, Amazon UK and Amazon Canada.