Two nuclear missiles
To me, this story breaks into two very different halves. I interpreted the first half as social commentary about technology and human relationships; since it’s fairly depressing, you might even call it “literature”. The second half of the story takes a left turn into la-la land; the story would have been more powerful if it had ended at its middle.
The writing is free of the errors which I’ve come to expect from independent short stories, but reads as if it were translated from a foreign language or written by a non-native English speaker. The author uses phrases which aren’t incorrect, but just aren’t what an English speaker would write. At first, I was trying to read some literary significance into the word choices, but once I quit doing so, they weren’t a distraction.
Mr. Babbers’ wife died recently, and most of his interaction is with automated devices. He has a talking Christmas tree, which seems to be his best friend, and a talking mailbox (a physical mailbox, not e-mail). These elements made me think the story could be social commentary, relating to people who replace human relationships with technology (facebook friends instead of real friendships).
My favorite scene in the story is when Mr. Babbers goes for a walk, and two robots (physical spambots) follow him down the sidewalk, trying to sell him insurance and interrupting each other with phrases like “as I was saying sir,”. The scene loses a little bit of its power when the robots turn on each other as if they have tempers, rather than relentlessly pursuing the sale.
The most powerful scene in the story, and the one which should have been its conclusion, is Mrs. Babbers’ funeral. After the service is over, the mourners deactivate, and that is the reader’s first hint that they are robotic devices rather than friends and family members. I am a fan of many types of technology: email beats the heck out of snail mail, I use aircraft to fly all over the planet, and I wouldn’t even be alive without a couple of medical interventions, but needing robots to mourn at a funeral is terribly sad.
After the funeral, Mr. Babbers goes to a store which resurrects his dead wife in a matter of minutes. The method of doing this isn’t elaborated. It doesn’t seem to be cloning; his wife has just been cremated and no DNA sample was provided, never mind the minutes-long process. His new wife isn’t a robot, as his future plans include having the children his wife always wanted. She apparently is reconstructed from his memories, although she remembers things he doesn’t; I suppose this might be explained if he had subconscious memories, as he was known to not listen to his wife.
The new copy of his wife is apparently exact including her personality, but is several decades younger. The couple board a rocket headed for a colony planet, because these “copy” humans aren’t allowed to live on Earth. Now, all I can think about is what will happen a decade later; when Mr. Babbers dies, will his copy-wife create a younger copy-husband? Will the process repeat, leading to an infinite couple? THAT could have been an interesting science fiction story.