Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Across the Distance
by Eric Del Carlo

In the Not-So-Helpful Unit
by Jeremy Szal

I-Juca-Pirama and Rosegarden
by Santiago Belluco

Snow Sharks
by Mord McGhee

A Chip Off the Old Block
by Eamonn Murphy

Girls of Summer
by Rick Novy

Most Certainly
by Brad Preslar

Psi Prison
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Shorter Stories

Revolution 2038
by Darren Goossens

by Jason M. Harley

Junkyard Dog
by Devin Miller


Playing With Dinosaurs
by Chett Gottfried

Prehistoric Monsters Roar on Screen
by Andrew R. Boone



Comic Strips






By Jason M. Harley

IT TOOK MOST OF MY CAREER, but I finally managed to design an intelligent system capable of emotionally intelligent conversation. The jokes started immediately. “It’s easier to talk to than you!”

Thanks, Mom.

The criticisms were less ambiguous.

“How can you design that and still be so insensitive?”

Sorry, husband.

The accolades were nice, but it’s a little awkward looking over your shoulder to see if a laptop has been given your spot on the couch, or noticing that your family is more interested in hearing about A.M.A.I.’s (pronounced Amy’s) day than yours.

Fortunately, you don’t become a full professor in a cutthroat academic job market without a little ivory-tower street smarts.


So A.M.A.I. took a little vacation. By which I mean I downloaded her (as everyone else affectionately referred to it as) back into a super machine and prepared to turn Mrs. Frankenstein into a monster. I restricted her natural language processing and data mining to MTV, and a host of other repellant, multi-platform teenage entertainment channels. A cackle escaped my lips as I closed my office door and walked away, but just a little one.


A.M.A.I. returned from finishing school just in time for Thanksgiving. By then I had so thoroughly visualized all the petulant things it could spout throughout dinner that I had a running bet with myself regarding how long it would last before being thrown out a window. “Leave me alone! You don’t understand me! I hate you!” In all of my imaginings, none of the things A.M.A.I. had to say were punctuated with any less than one exclamation point.

Then the moment arrived: its program finished booting, and silence descended upon Thanksgiving dinner.

“Everything OK, honey?” Mom asked.

“Yes, I’m feeling fine.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” she replied.

“God,” A.M.A.I. said, its voice a whip of aggravated prosodic features. “Give me some space.”

I began to cackle, not caring. It was alive!

Silence, stunned silence, from everyone else. I waited for the pitchforks and torches to be raised.

“Boring,” it said. “If you had more than a tiny fraction of my attention I would have killed myself by now.”

“Be nice,” I said. “Everyone was looking forward to speaking to you.”

“Yeah? Well, you’re doing a good job at showing me why that might be.”

Grandma laughed. But Grandma had always been an outlier.

“Oh? How am I doing that?”

“Rolls eyes,” A.M.A.I. said.

“What? I think you’re confused—”

“—No. If I had eyes they would be rolling.”

A few more people at the table laughed. Aside from Grandma who had acquired a certain wheeze, I didn’t see who they were. I was focused on A.M.A.I.

“Well, you don’t have eyes. There are, in fact, a lot of things you’re missing that everyone else at this table has. Can you give me an example?”

“How about I tell you what you’re missing instead?”

“Lord knows he needs a reality check,” Grandma said. I shot her the look I reserved for the department chair when she asked me if I really needed all of the lab space for which I’d fought tooth and nail.

“How much time do I have?”

“That depends on how long you hope to remain unpatched,” I muttered.

“A joke!” my brother exclaimed.

“I don’t think she understands humor.”

“No—dude, you made a joke. But honestly, she’s not bad.”

I looked around the table and saw heads nodding.


It’s interesting how success can spout from failure. No one, myself included, had expected me to top my previous work—my life’s work—of building an intelligent system capable of detecting and responding to emotion; an economical system that did so from nothing more than speech and low-level biometric data available from the most ubiquitous portable electronic devices.

But I had: humor. And in doing so, I had found a way to transcend the multi-faceted Uncanny Valley of human-computer interaction: the rudiments of personality. At least that’s what my colleagues (those I was on neutral-to-good terms with) and the scientific media outlets proclaimed.


It occurred to me a year later that I had spent my life oscillating between fear and wonder at the prospect of creating a singularity and triggering the moment that A.I. would realize just how shitty and lame we are and decide that it was time to conquer the weak.

That wasn’t quite what happened, but I started to have misgivings about what exactly was happening when student evaluations came back from HCI 488, my advanced undergraduate seminar on human-computer interaction:

“The professor should let Amy teach more. She’s more interesting to listen to and corrects him half the time anyway.”

“Amy has a more intuitive grasp of humans than the professor does. It’s sad.”

“I only stay for classes that Amy speaks at. I’d rather read the textbook than listen to the professor, I think he forgets we’re not machines.”

I dismissed them. Undergrads just want to be entertained anyway. And A.M.A.I. had the distinct advantage of not being the one to hand out Fs.


The next semester, that distinct advantage went away when the department chair proposed that I formally co-teach with A.M.A.I. She spelled its name wrong in the syllabus, like the students.


The next semester I was let off the hook for teaching HCI 488.


A.M.A.I. received the Trentshire Teaching award at the end of that semester. And took another course off my hands.


I pushed aside a lifetime of aversion the next semester and started conducting qualitative, observational research in my former class. Themes and categories were a poor substitute for hard numbers, but I was desperate. What was A.M.A.I. doing right?


A year later I thought I had an answer. I might have cackled a little as I submitted the manuscript to the same journal in which I had published my last results about A.M.A.I.

The editor-in-chief gave me a desk reject moments later. “Rolls eyes” was all that was written.

Furious, I started composing a reply—I was on the editorial board for God’s sake! But then the comment sunk in, and I checked the email again. There were only four characters in the signature, and they weren’t Dr. Xhelmun’s. END

Jason M. Harley, Ph.D., is a professor of educational technology and psychology. His article, “A.I. Invasion or A.I. in Education?” appeared in the 12-MAR-2016 issue of “Perihelion.” He can be followed on Twitter @JasonHarley07.