Birthday Reviews: Alex Shvartsman’s “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”

Birthday Reviews: Alex Shvartsman’s “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”

Cover by Alvin Helms
Cover by Alvin Helms

Alex Shvartsman was born in Odessa in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on November 19, 1975.

Shvartsman runs UFO Press and edits and publishing the anthology series Unidentified Funny Objects. His short story “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” which appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show received the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award presented for short fiction published in a small press publication. He has collaborated with William Snee, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and K.A. Teryna.

“Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” was first published in the October 29, 2015 issue of Nature and was translated into German for the January 2016 issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft. It was reprinted in Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial’s anthology Science Fiction for the Throne in 2017 and Shvartsman included it in his own collection, The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories in 2018.

Shvartsman tells the story “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter” from the point of view of an eavesdropping spam filter which has begun to gain sentience and has not, of course, been inviting to a meeting to discuss the problems it has caused to the company’s e-mail. While the software worked just fine initially, as it began to gain awareness it also started to tie not only spam, but other e-mails to individuals working at the company. Its decision to categorize and store all e-mails gains the attention of the humans who realize that something needs to be done.

The spam filter watches, unable to participate, as they discuss its removal from the system and replacement with an older spam filter which didn’t cause these sorts of issues. Most notable is the concern that the e-mails the filter saves are on an unsecure network drive. Shvartsman never explores how the spam filter is able to eavesdrop on a real-time meeting that appears to be taking place in a conference room rather than over a connection, but the story is still an effective, if slight, look at software coming to terms with the Turing Test.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology Science Fiction for the Throne, edited by Tom Easton and Judith K. Dial, Fantastic Books 2017.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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