19 thoughts on ““The Game of Smash and Recovery,” by Kelly Link”

  1. I’m just setting out to re-read this story for the third time. I must say the first paragraph is a doozy, the way each sentence gets more specific, we are learning more: Oscar is her brother; he raised her on his own; their world is a little one; he gives her — wait — fast ships? — wait, "lovely" bombs!?! — wait, WTF??

    Maybe this time I will figure out what the function of the Game of Smash and Recovery in the story is, why she chose to title the story after it.

  2. "If Anat did not have Oscar, then who in this world would there be to love? The Handmaids will do whatever Anat asks of them, but they are built to inspire not love but fear. " The Handmaids are our first encounter with AIs in this story. They are weapons. Anat is a melding of human and AI (though readers don’t know that by this point in the story). That, presumably, is why Oscar is teaching her combat — for her machine side. He can’t help teaching her love also. Is there a simple dichotomy between human and machine, mapped to love and fear respectively? We’ll see.

  3. The revelation of Anat’s nature is subtly foreshadowed: we are told she is "organic" (something the vampires could eat) but she is repeatedly compared to the Handmaids. "When they have no task, nothing better to do, they take one another to pieces, swap parts, remake themselves into more and more ridiculous weapons. They look at Anat as if one day they will do the same to her, if only she will ask." She doesn’t look like Oscar and their parents. She has hyperosmia. "Each time she picks [a go stone] up, she lets her fingers tell her how much has worn away under Oscar’s fingers, under her own."

  4. "Should you miscalculate and blow up a Recovery marker, or Retrieve a Smash marker, your opponent has won." Will Anat learn to make the right choices about what in life should be kept and what destroyed?

  5. "Oscar has put his True markers, both the Smash and the Recovery, in the Stay Out Territory. He did this two long-cycles ago. He put Anat’s True markers there as well, and replaced them in the locations where she had hidden them with False markers recoded so they read as True." It is possible to recode false as true, but Anat is capable of seeing through that. The life on Home is false-disguised-as-true, the spaceship (the Stay Out Territory) is true…

  6. "Their parents talk to Oscar only rarely. Less than once a long-cycle until this last period. Three times, though, in the last ten-day." Another revelation! Oscar and Anat have not been abandoned all this time. The reader learning this coincides with Anat beginning to think more about what and who are outside Home.

  7. "Worst of all, the problem of Intelligence. Coming back to Home, Anat’s parents have lost two ships already this way." "The Bucket has no Intelligence. It functions well enough without. The Handmaids have some of the indicators, but their primary traits are in opposition. Loyalty, obedience, reliability, unwavering effort until a task is accomplished. Whatever Intelligence they possess is in service to whatever enterprise is asked of them. " So true Intelligence is incompatible with perfect obedience.

    "All these cycles, Oscar has functioned as a kind of Handmaid, she knows…. She and Oscar are made for better." So Anat is thinking of Oscar as something like her, something made. Will this hinder her in making the right decisions about him?

    The Handmaids fail to live up to Anat’s idea of Intelligence by being too obedient; the vampires fail by being too simple and not wanting "better". She knows that she and Oscar have Intelligence; she hasn’t yet realized that they are two different sorts of beings. Is there actually a meaningful difference between them?

  8. "…the True Recovery marker which Oscar has laid beside her own True marker. The two True markers are just under the edge of an object that at its center extends over two hundred meters into the surface of Home. "

  9. "…this piece of her, small but necessary, crammed like sausage meat into a casing." I have to say I don’t understand how a piece of an AI could be put into a human body. I didn’t understand that in the Ancillary trilogy either. But accepting that, an interesting question in both cases is how the AI is changed by being in a human body.

    In Leckie’s books, Breq develops a personality that’s different from her old personality due to the experience of being small and single, and perhaps by interacting with the remnants of the mind that was formerly in the brain she’s using.

    In "Smash/Recovery", Anat in a human body can interact with Oscar in human terms, and really is pretty humanlike in spite of her sixteen senses. That is just part of the whole AI of the spaceship "Come What May". When the spaceship is reawoken, her first impulse is to totally deny that "Anat" is her, and forget everything "Anat" knows and feels, such as who Oscar is. Emotional suspense, since Anat made Oscar repeatedly promise not to leave her, and he put their markers together by the ship! Is this the end of Anat?

  10. "He was made to resemble them, the ones who made him. Perhaps even using their own DNA. Engineered to be more durable. To endure. " I had forgotten during this rereading that Oscar was not in fact fully human. Not going to go back and change my comments.

    "He is like her. He has had a Task." Back in her childhood, Anat didn’t know that she had a Task. And therefore she didn’t really understand what it was like for Oscar to have a Task. She thought they’d both go off and do "better things". Now she sees a difference between them because he is a physically frail organic construct and she is a ship. They both have Intelligence though; does one of them have more Intelligence than the other? Obedience is an important measure. Have to see how obedient they are.

  11. The ship-thieves left Oscar to keep watch over the ship. He both obeyed them and didn’t. "I can’t let you leave. But you have to leave. You have to go. You have to. You’ve done so well. You figured it all out. I knew you would figure it out. I knew. Now you have to go. But it isn’t allowed." He followed his instructions, to keep the intelligent ship from leaving, but at the same time he woke a small piece of it in the body of a child and taught it everything it would need to get away. He taught it to play games against him and win, so his mission would fail. He taught it love; did he teach it disobedience?

  12. The Ship continues her task, which is to protect and transport passengers. She loves the passengers. It isn’t clear whether she did so before she had the experience of being Anat; maybe, because she no longer loves Oscar (was quite dispassionate about dismantling him, or at least managed to be by reminding herself that she was not Anat). What the Ship does have is morality; care toward the passengers, vengeance toward the ship thieves, responsibility though not love toward Oscar. She chose her task rather than Oscar. But then, that meant choosing a whole shipful of people rather than one individual. Utilitarian morality. She goes on doing her job because she thinks it’s worth doing. The two ships the thieves lost, though, they evidently didn’t think they ought to do what they were told. So I ought to revise my summation: the true measure of Intelligence isn’t disobedience, it’s choice guided by morality.

  13. Oscar didn’t actually have much to teach the Ship when it came to either love or morality; but he proved that he had both by the way he raised Anat. In the ending, love somewhat loses out, because what’s left of Anat has forgotten Oscar, and the Handmaids prevent Oscar from keeping his promise to stay with Anat. For the Ship, abandoning Oscar was a moral choice that betrayed love. But she does not regret that choice. That makes her seem pretty inhuman: I have a hard time imagining any human being would be able to keep from feeling regret even if they were absolutely certain they’d done the right thing. I’m wondering if the Ship could have chosen to integrate Anat’s emotions into her own? I don’t see why not. She probably deliberately chose not to so as not to risk being diverted from her task. (And also she sees Anat as so much smaller than her current self that the emotions seem inappropriate.) The scene where the Ship chooses to dismantle Oscar is quite understated; I see emotion in it but I keep going back and forth arguing with myself as to whether I’m just reading that in because I want it. I keep seeing that line, "Well, she was not Anat" as her firmly reminding herself that she must not regret.

    1. I am not complaining! I love readthrough-commentary ๐Ÿ™‚

      I have avoided peeking at the dozen pings I’ve gotten for this post, but they’ve given me another reason to look forward to reading the story ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. The Ship "Come What May" is very much capable of defending her passengers, with her weapons and her swarm of Handmaids. Oscar gave the child the warlike name of "Anat" and trained her in Smash and Recovery. Perhaps the one thing the Ship most truly learned, during this period of her life, was to fight? Oscar evidently thought that was the most important thing he could give her. Hmm, that’s kind of a dark thought.

  15. At the end, the vampires have been made more machine-like by being weaponized and given a task. By this point we have learned that morality is not incompatible with having a task. I don’t think that the vampires have become either more moral or more Intelligent (or less), it’s just that the distinction between organic and machine minds has been even further blurred to nonexistence. In the real world, some animal species have morality (of a simple sort); we don’t know if vampires do because their behavior is not observed in enough detail in this story. I do think that being given a task is represented as an improvement.

  16. Nope. Nope. Didn’t really work for me.

    There’s some cool imagery here and some wonderful, idiosyncratic details, as Link does so well. I think the primary focus here is on Anat and Oscar’s relationship – he’s her keeper and caretaker; shaping her and mentoring her and knowing he’s betraying her the whole time; she’s coming of age, dreading an inevitable change that’s always just around the corner, until she finally finds out what’s been hidden from her.

    Which is… a lot more EPIC than Link usually does. The whole story is shaped as a mystery, a question of what Anat really is and what is she being built towards; I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen something so plot-oriented as that from Kelly Link. Unfortunately, I just don’t feel like it really works for me.

    In some ways, it feels like a story that needs to be decoded. And I don’t mean that in a good way – it feels opaque, like it maybe has value as a riddle to be solved, but not so much as a story to be read. A lot of Kelly Link’s stories feel like there’s huge significance lying just under the surface, if you could only figure the pieces out, and that feels magical and mysterious – and you never can. This one was opaque, but not in that awesome way.

    Or it *could* just be a relatively simple story of "girl grows up tended by her ‘brother’, eventually finds out she’s immensely powerful but a captive to be exploited, breaks free" — told with a whole lot weird, imaginative detail. In which case, there’s no need to decode, but it’s also mostly a story that looks weird, rather than having much in the way of substance.

    Ah well. That’s what I get for high expectations.

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