Talk to a Real, Live Girl and Other Stories
by Paul Clayton
Amazon Digital Services

"The colors on the glass wall swirled, morphing into a picture of a girl. He wanted to look away, but couldn’t…She stared, seeming to recognize him. Then the image faded."

Clayton’s new book includes a couple of short stories but primarily focuses on the title novella. A work of speculative fiction, it builds the story around Alex, who has taken a job on a mining planet. A recent divorce on an Earth ill-disposed toward men has left him unable to communicate with his young daughter and driven him to Kratos and a working environment consisting only of men and AI. Although Kratos does offer female companionship in the form of sexbots, Alex longs for the companionship and conversation of a real human woman. Traci, the “Real, Live Girl” of the title, hires herself out by the hour to offer human conversation to the men stationed there. Alex falls for her, but he is not alone. His boss, an elite AI named Donald Banks, is also curiously interested in Traci.

Clayton does a nice job creating a mining world full of distractions and AI of varying intelligence to populate his tale. The lead character is likable and easily provokes our empathy. The motivations of Banks greatly add interest to the story and concern about the outcomes for the characters involved. Clayton has generated a good bit of tension between Alex and his AI boss, and their interest in the same woman provides a great vehicle to explore the similarities and differences between these two conflicting beings. Some readers could be a bit put off by the politically driven, gender-based environment the story creates, but most will accept it as worldbuilding. In addition, the short story, “The Lawn,” is an enjoyable read and a nice addition to this work.

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