[Review] Damage, by David D. Levine

Greg from Rocket Stack Rank wrote in the comments on Lela E. Buis’ blog:

Try “Damage” for a really bad story that actually got recommended by someone.

How could I resist an invitation like that? And, yep, Damage is pretty bad. Although not the worst I’ve read this year.

Plot-wise, Scraps – a cobbled-together intelligent spaceship with feelings – is tasked to go on a top secret mission with her pilot, Commander Ziegler. Turns out that he’s an arrogant, blood-crazed bastard commanded by a genocidal maniac, and her mission is to penetrate Earth’s defenses and nuke Delhi until it glows.

Writing this review, I assumed Scraps was a girl spaceship (they were cobbled together from two ‘female’ spaceships). Her behaviour is certainly a bad gender stereotype. She’s mainly passive. The pilot does the flying. Her main role seems to be providing tactical data and doing basic tasks, which my iPhone 6 can manage just fine without consciousness/sentience. The rest of the time, her “maths co-processor” is devoted to loving her pilot (the reasons for this programming are explained), bolstering his oversized ego and hand-wringing about the horrors of war.

The pseudo-sexual elements were especially cringeworthy:

I miss the thrill of my beloved’s touch on my yoke.


I had no doubt he was the same man who had warmed my cockpit every day since the very hour I awoke

The whole thing reads like Fifty Shades of G-Force** in which Anastasia Steele is handcuffed to Christian Grey while he goes on a killing spree in central Seattle. Or maybe Fifty Shades of Grey crossed with Pacific Rim, in which a gigantic Anastasia Steele trashes Seattle while Christian Grey rides on her back, giving orders. All Scraps needed was an ‘inner goddess‘ in her bomb bay.

[**Fifty Shades is the only erotica I’ve read. Hence it gets used as a reference point].

I couldn’t suspend disbelief at the weirdness of this setup. If Scraps is an AI, why isn’t *she* flying the spaceship? She manages to deploy grapnels on her own. In fact, why use a human pilot for the battles, at all? He’d be flesh blancmange after the first manoeuvre. And why doesn’t anyone – except Specialist Toman (a traitor to the Free Belt) – seem to notice that Scraps has PTSD? 

If Scraps had true agency, blowing the s**t out the good guys instead of putting her metaphorical fingers over her eyes like a good little spaceship, I think it would have improved the story. She wouldn’t be an immaculate victim-protagonist, but – instead – a troubled and complex war criminal. That raises more interesting questions, I think.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars + 0.5 stars for the space battles. The writing is alright. The plot has a beginning, middle and an end. The story elements don’t quite add up.


    • The quotes get better:

      “Only Commander Ziegler mattered. My love, my light, my reason to live.”

      “If my commander, my love, the fuel of my heart, desired something . . . then it must be done, no matter the cost.”

      “But while he slept—his restless brain gently lulled by careful doses of intravenous drugs—I worried. Though every fiber of my being longed for his happiness, and would make any sacrifice if it furthered his desires, some unidentifiable part of me, impossibly outside of my programming, knew that those desires were . . . misguided”

      It’s like a bad parody of a Mills & Boon novel. The sort-of writing you do, aged fourteen. Maybe that was the AI’s personality, but it begs the question – why would the Free Belt create AIs that behaved like hormonal teenagers?

    • Interesting. The author doesn’t say it’s a satire (http://www.daviddlevine.com/story/damage/). Quote: “But even knowing that she is damaged, and knowing intellectually that her love is artificial and involuntary, doesn’t make any of it less real to her on an emotional level.”

      I guess he could have been going for ‘artificial love’, but I read ‘teenage crush’. And crushing on your pilot seems maladaptive programming – too intense to be useful.

  • We collected together all the recommendations for 2015 to take a shot at making Best Editor (short form) nominations. You might find it interesting.


    In particular, we looked at how many recommendations were for stories in magazines that we didn’t review, which gives us some idea of how much we missed by not reading prozines in 2015. I know that was an issue you’d been concerned about.

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