The Lifecycle of Software Objects

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The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Lifecycle of Software Objects - bookcover.jpg
Hardcover edition
AuthorTed Chiang
Original titleThe Lifecycle of Software Objects
Cover artistChristian Pearce
CountryUnited States
GenreScience Fiction novella
PublisherSubterranean Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages150 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN978-1-59606-317-4 (first edition, hardback)

"The Lifecycle of Software Objects" is a novella by American writer Ted Chiang originally published in 2010 by Subterranean Press.[1]


This is Chiang's first novella to be published originally in hardcover. As of December 22, 2010, both the first edition and trade edition have sold out, but the novella remains available in second printing from Subterranean Press's website.[2] The tale was later included in the Chiang's second collection book Exhalation: Stories released in 2019.

The Subterreanean Press edition of the novella features ten internal paintings and cover art by Weta Workshop artist Christian Pearce.[3] Each of the novella's ten chapters is preceded by a map designed by Jacob McMurray.


"The Lifecycle of Software Objects" follows Ana Alvarado over a twenty-year period, during which she "raises" an artificial intelligence from being essentially a digital pet to a human-equivalent mind.

Ana, a former zoo trainer, is hired by a software developing company to assist in the training of digital creatures, named digients in the story, that are designed with a learning capacity similar to human children. Ana helps with the training and forms a close bond with Derek Brooks, a designer in charge of creating the visual appearance of the digients.

Blue Gamma releases the digients in a virtual reality platform named Data Earth with big initial success, but after several years, the popularity of the digients diminishes and Blue Gamma closes. Several of the employees form a group to keep the digients active and learning; Ana keeps one named Jax and Derek keeps two named Marco and Polo. During these years, Derek develops unrequited feelings for Ana.

After a few more years, the platform of Data Earth closes and merges with another digital platform named Real Space. Most of the games and software have already an equivalent there, but the digients don't because Blue Gamma closed before the launching of Real Space, which means they remain isolated at private servers running Data Earth. Ana, Derek and the other owners maintain a flow of learning activities for the digients, but they are unable to provide enough social interaction for them unless they can port them to Real Space, which prevents them to continue developing as social beings.

Ana receives an offer from another digient manufacturer, that wants her to train their digients to become personal assistants. She considers it an opportunity to convince them to invest on the digients she has been training, but the job offer has the downside that she would have to get her brain chemistry altered to reinforce her commitment to her work. On the other hand, the group receives an offer by a marketer of virtual sex dolls, that offers to pay for the port of the digients to Real Space in exchange of copies of the digients to train them as sex partners for their clients.

Marco and Polo are intrigued by the offer, but Ana takes a strong position against it and instead prepares to accept the job offer. Upon learning that, Derek allows himself to be convinced by Marco to accept the offer of the sex doll company and sells them a copy of Marco, even if he knows that this will destroy any chance he has with Ana.

Ana finds out and cuts all ties with Derek. In the final scene, she is working on the education of Jax and meditates on the possibilities he will have at life, although she can't help feeling down because of the high price that was paid.


“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” won the 2011 Locus Award for Best Novella[4] and the Hugo Award for Best Novella.


  1. ^ [1] Archived December 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Chiang, Ted. "The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang — Subterranean Press". Archived from the original on 2012-03-07. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  3. ^ "Christian Pearce". Christian Pearce. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  4. ^ "Announcing the 2011 Locus Award Winners". 2011-06-25. Retrieved 2014-02-16.

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