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Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Programmed Love Story" by Ian Watson

First appeared in Transatlantic Review.  Reprinted by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison in a year's best anthology.  Collected in The Very Slow Time Machine.

A Tokyo businessman quarrels with his wife, Kei, because she is not what the firm's astrology computer suggests.  She should push him harder than she does.  They separate and she takes a job as a cabaret hostess where they program her personality for whatever visitors come by.  The husband programs her as she "should" be and visits her often although the price is exorbitant.  Eventually, the price is too much.  He steals from his company to see her and  loses his job.  They run off together to shine shoes.

This is one Watson's best.  The refrain, "Once upon a time in the Year Two Thousand," is at once potent and beautiful.  It has this intriguing contrast--of looking forward and looking back.  Plus, there's little to no finger-wagging.  It just is.  The husband still loves her, and in the end abandons the thing he and she were supposed to become for something else entirely.  I'm less certain about the ending.  Would someone sell this story for business purposes?  Why?  What advantage would it give the business?  Fork over all your money until you're broke but in love?  Maybe.

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