Utopia is overrated: a review of ‘And Shall Machines Surrender’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Doctor Orfea Lueng has come to the Shenzhen dyson sphere to escape her past and her present. All she wants is safety from the past that threatens to kill her if she’s discovered. All seems well, miraculously so, until her past shoves itself in her face in the form of Krissana Khongti, a spy who left her for dead, who has now become an AI-Human hybrid and semi-religious symbol to the people. Worse still, she is unwillingly forced to work with her former lover thrust into a mystery that has the potential to destroy the Mandate.

What can I say about this book except wow. From the outset you know you’re being launched into something intense; “Shenzen Sphere, Even at first glimpse the vastness confronts, built like complex ribbons wrapping around the red pearl of its star: scintillant and ophidian.” The level of detail in the way things are described, while leaving enough for the imagination to chew on, creates a beautiful sweeping vision of a utopia. I remember one instance where the skyscrapers of Luohu, against the backdrop of night, are described as making a cosmos of their own. And this is just one example of hundreds I can point to that made me sit back for a moment and breath it all in.

The characters are also wonderful. You have the incredibly reserved and stoic Orfea, with her layers of history. The nonchalant and decadent Krissana, sly and manipulative in every action, is sure to charm you. The mysterious and formal Seung Ngo, whose motives are never clear until they want you to know them, always puts on the face they want you to see. Each are very distinct, and toy with each other in only the way that characters with an extended backstory can do. Even Orfea’s information-extraction adventure near the middle of the story, a situation which Krissana dumped her into with little preamble, is *chef kiss* when it comes to building up Orfea’s past— be warned though; there is wlw-based BDSM afoot.

On top of all this, you’ve got a very compact and solid plot thread weaving through this fabric to tie it all together. Orfea is coming to seek refuge on the Shenzhen Dyson Sphere, and is, surprisingly, granted immediate asylum. After going through the motions, she witnesses something that nobody was supposed to see, and she’s given an offer she can’t refuse, which puts her into a conspiracy that ratchets up the tension with every step taken, building to a crescendo before given a final satisfying conclusion.

And what can I say about the worldbuilding other than wow? Mixed with the beautiful prose you get a genuine sense of the scale of the world and the small part of the universe. The Haruspex and what their whole deal is. The various nation-state dyson-spheres battling it out. It’s hard to imagine this thing is only 79 pages long and there are times I genuinely thought I was reading something twice as long. The amount of information crammed into this story is astounding, and it’s a testament to Sriduangkaew’s skill that she does it in a way that feels natural. At least most of the time. In order to explain some worldbuilding-contextual-stuff— of which only one of the characters has experienced— the perspective rapidly shifts between Krissana and Orfea. Sometimes the only time you can tell that a perspective has changed is by remembering that Krissana has a certain way of talking about or referring to Orfea in the context of her character. Once you do noticed this, this doesn’t throw you as much. But this is a very small thing in an incredibly solid book, and shouldn’t stop you from reading it yourself.

Rating: 4.5/5

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