My AI and Miss Jean Brodie

By Pamela Sargent

Ship, the artificial intelligence that unites the three volumes of my Seed trilogy—Earthseed, Farseed, and the just-published Seed Seeker—is the mind inside the space-faring vessel sent out by a far-future Earth to seed other worlds with human life. In Earthseed, Ship is the only parent the young people growing up inside it have ever known. In Farseed, Ship is absent until the last chapter of the book, although still remembered by its children, who have settled the planet they call Home but are still caught in the conflict among them than began aboard Ship. In Seed Seeker, Ship returns to find out what has become of the descendants of its earthseed, who now recall it only as a legendary part of their distant past.

The obvious science-fictional antecedents of Ship include, to mention only one, Robert A. Heinlein’s Universe. What isn’t apparent is that the creation of Ship was also inspired by Muriel Spark’s short novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, originally published in 1961. There were times when I imagined Ship speaking in tones similar to those of, say, HAL in 2001, but maybe just as many when I would hear the voice of Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Jean Brodie in the 1969 movie based on the novel, or Vanessa Redgrave, who first played the role on the stage, reciting Ship’s lines of dialogue.

A number of my novels and stories were influenced by sources that might seem eccentric. One early novel of mine, Watchstar, was fueled by the writings of both Arthur C. Clarke and Carlos Casteneda (one an sf writer rooted in rationality, the other a self-proclaimed shaman and occult thinker whose supposed anthropological studies were probably fiction). My Venus novels grew out of wanting to write a generational novel like Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, unlikely as that sounds; using a terraforming project as background provided the appropriate scope for a story of generations, and my fictional family, unlike the Buddenbrooks of Mann’s novel, turned out not to be a family in decline. The characters led me to the story, while the science-fictional elements pushed it in a very different direction from what I had originally intended.

The same thing happened with Ship, who turned out to be not at all like Jean Brodie, the passionate and devoted schoolteacher who is betrayed by one of her students. But without Jean Brodie’s (and Muriel Spark’s) aid in imagining and shaping Ship, I might not have realized (not to give too much away to anyone who hasn’t read my novels) that Ship has been misled by its own creators and is also in danger of being betrayed by them even as it inadvertently misleads the children it carries. Farseed went in another direction, given Ship’s absence, while Seed Seeker depicts two very different and divided human settlements that fear what they think of as Ship’s judgment, but the story had its roots in the mixture of idealism, devotion, and deception that Muriel Spark depicted so well.

Pamela Sargent’s Seed Seeker, third in a trilogy that includes Earthseed and Farseed, is just out from Tor. Her other books include the science fiction novels Venus of Dreams and The Shore of Women, the anthologies Women of Wonder, The Classic Years and Women of Wonder, the Contemporary Years, the alternative history Climb the Wind, and Ruler of the Sky, a historical novel about Genghis Khan that Gary Jennings called “formidably researched and exquisitely written.” She has won the Nebula and Locus Awards and been a finalist for the Hugo.

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