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Made curious by Hullender’s recent stats, I’ve been inspired to look up Analog’s last Hugo win. This turns out to be the Best Novella award in 2004 for The Cookie Monster by Vernor Vinge. Vernor Vinge is a retired math and computer science professor from San Diego State University. He sold his first SF story to Analog in 1966, and went on to write the Hugo Award winners, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002) and The Cookie Monster (2004). He is also known for his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity.” For anyone who is curious, he was married to SF author Joan Vinge for a while.

The Cookie Monster can be read online here. Dixie Mae, whose best job to date has been flipping burgers, has gotten a job in customer support for LotsaTech. The company handles tech support for Voxalot, and Dixie Mae works in a cubicle in the California site. She is annoyed by Victor, the new-hire in the next cubicle, who she thinks leers at her a lot. Regardless that all the customer support workers use the same signature, Dixie Mae gets a creepy email from someone who knows about her childhood and signs it “Lusting.” At first everyone blames Victor, but he denies it. At lunch time, Dixie Mae and Victor decide to check around the area to see who might be “messing” with her. In the next building, they find a group of people who are working for Professor Reich, who consults for the company and was also responsible for the testing that selected the new employees for Voxalot. Victor knows one of the women, Ellen. When they compare time-lines, they find things seem to be a week off. Ellen speculates their week of training was actually drugged sleep where they were fed training and false memories. They wonder if this is actually an experiment in how effective a Just-In-Time (JIT) training method is, and discuss how to blow the whistle on the scam. Ellen, Dixie and Victor walk over to the next building where Ellen meets a stranger who knows her, and then a copy of herself. It seems the two of them split the day they took the professor’s recruitment exam. This group is also working for the professor, and for them, the timeline is a month off. They find still another group whose timeline is nine months off. Comparing experiences, they realize they are all just personality uploads working as slave labor who will forget everything when they are rebooted for another period of work. They make plans for revenge.

The setting with Dixie Mae and Victor starts off simplistic, but the story gathers steam as the characters start on their quest for information. Eventually it gets into an analysis of what kind of computer and what kind of programming it would take to run this kind of application. It has a good close, as the uploaded personalities resolve to get revenge on their creator. The ideas are creative, but the writing isn’t especially polished. The characters aren’t well developed. The beginning sounds tongue-in-cheek and toward the end, the characters drone technical details, becoming only tools the author uses to talk about the concepts. There are some other minor issues, too, like shifts back and forth between active and passive voice. I like the creative idea, but the lack of character development is hard to overcome. Two stars.

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