Short Story Review: THE PERFECT MATCH, by Ken Liu

My search for interesting short stories (and a quick sample of authors who are new to me) continues…  This week is the turn of Ken Liu’s

THE PERFECT MATCH

(click on the link to read the story)

Thanks to the online archives of Lightspeed Magazine I discovered this intriguing short story by Ken Liu: it postulates that in a not-so-far future our life will be handled by the next generation of the technology we daily use today.

Sai is a young corporate employee whose life is totally managed by Tilly, the captivating name of the virtual personal assistant created by Centillion software – think Siri on steroids…  He wakes up to music Tilly tailors to his personal preferences, prepares himself for work eating the kind of breakfast that Tilly judges is best for him according to the day ahead, and knows that after work he has a date with a girl whose profile has been chosen by Tilly on the basis of his previous choices and psychological profile.

Sai is not alone in this: like millions of other Centillion customers, his whole life is run by Tilly, down to the smallest detail, because Centillion’s motto is “Make Things Better”, by creating social profiles of people and guiding them toward the choices that best correspond to their preferences and ultimately to their happiness. Tilly is an ever-present voice in Sai’s ear coming from his phone’s earpiece, a sort of technological Jiminy Cricket finding exactly what Sai wants even before he knows he wants it, always coming up with the perfect solution to any issue that might arise during the day.

The evening date with a very compatible woman goes according to plan: they are eminently suited to each other, and have no lack of common interests – Tilly’s choice seems to have hit its mark once more, and yet a little worm of doubt starts creeping over Sai’s consciousness:

Everything was indeed going smoothly, but maybe just a tad too smoothly. It was as if they already knew everything there was to know about each other. There were no surprises, no thrill of finding the truly new.

These doubts stem from the latest encounter with Sai’s next-door neighbor Jenny, a person who resents the excessive presence of technology in people’s lives, like Tilly’s camera over Sai’s door, complaining about the invasion of privacy. During one of their hallway encounters, Jenny accuses him of living under Tilly’s thumb, so to speak, accepting its advice to the point he’s unwilling – or even unable – to make choices on his own.

Once this doubt has been sown, Sai starts to question Tilly’s choices and this attitude is met with the kind of amazed perplexity of a hurt mother – a very suffocating mother: observing the ramifications of this software into people’s everyday life is something of a shock, because in truth many of us in the real world have started to rely on our gadgets in a way that makes us quite depended on them, instead of our memory, awareness, choices.  As one character says at some point:

Without Tilly, you can’t do your job, you can’t remember your life, you can’t even call your mother. We are now a race of cyborgs. We long ago began to spread our minds into the electronic realm, and it is no longer possible to squeeze all of ourselves back into our brains.

This story is not a dire warning about the dangers of technology, not at all, but rather a cautionary tale about surrendering our independence to the oh-so-easy help of convenient appliances, forgetting that at the same time we are surrendering a part of ourselves. Something to always keep in mind when we share the big and small details of our lives with the faceless technology that’s part of our existence…

My Rating: 

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Posted on May 30, 2017, in Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Oh, this sounds very interesting. I’ll have to check it out, thanks for the link!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the few stories in The Paper Menagerie that didn’t fully convince me, I thought it was too obvious. If you liked it, be sure you check out his other short stories…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (I linked to quite a few of them in my review)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, I like this as an idea because if we forget how to do too many things due to the fact that we have devices that do them for us – then it’s not always a good thing is it. Even on a small scale in work, as an example, if our systems all go belly up we pretty much can’t get on with anything until they’re back up and running – we so rely on them, calendar, phone numbers, emails, all our documents – you can’t even phone somebody because you don’t have the number. A few years ago I was really good at remembering phone numbers – but you stop doing that because they’re now all stashed in your mobile. These days I don’t even know my own mobile number let alone anyone else’s – it takes the need away and makes you a bit complacent I suppose.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true about phone numbers! I do have a paper backup for emergencies, and my address book is backed up on Gmail (yes, another oh-so-convenient gizmo! LOL), but I’m aware that I’m losing some important ability here. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg: even though we have not reached the levels shown in this story, still we are constantly catalogued, inspected and targeted according to what we do online: every time I stop to *think* about it, I feel uneasy…. 🙂

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  5. Now THAT sounds like an SF story…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved this one too! And I agree with your conclusions, plus, what is a life without predictability and its surprises, right? 😀 I think I read The Perfect Match as part of his Paper Menagerie anthology, and I definitely thought this was one of the standouts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So far I’ve been far luckier with Liu’s short stories than with his longer works, but every time I find one of these delightful shorts I keep telling myself I need to try again his novel. One of these days… 🙂

      Like

  7. Ooooh, this sounds very promising indeed! I’ve absolutely loved Liu’s translation work, but I haven’t read any of his fiction yet. He seems like a very thoughtful, precise writer and the fact that he’s worked with the best and brightest is a good sign. Stories about the potential dangers of faceless tech are so unsettling sometimes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the different “flavors” Liu brings to his short stories: the ones I read were all different in setting and characterization, and all equally enjoyable – even when they offer dire warnings like this one… 🙂

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  8. I read this one when I read his collection of short stories, I liked this one but it didn’t grab me the way some of the other stories did because this one didn’t feel that unique, the subject is interesting but I’ve read about it a lot in other short stories. Anyway, Liu’s short works are amazing, I like his novels but I still prefer his shorter works.

    Liked by 1 person

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