This is a long short story or novella about a woman who sculpts statues out of metal that are also fountains. I think I read it in a “best of” anthology edited by Gardner Dozois about 10 years ago.

She lives in Berkeley but her husband has a job with a company in New Mexico creating an personal assistant AI (I don't remember if the story actually calls it that). She moves there to be with him (there are many descriptions of the desert and how different it is from Berkeley) and to work on a commission to create a sculpture for a community center there.

Her husband asks her to try using the program he has created - first she is reluctant, but then she starts finding it useful and also begins to form an emotional attachment to it. There is a scene where she is in the bath and the AI reads a poem by Carl Sandburg to her called "Honey and Salt." I think the part quoted in the story comes from the middle of the poem: "There are sanctuaries holding honey and salt."

She creates the sculpture and is a great success. It has water rushing over it at timed intervals to create an impression of a storm in the desert. She starts to think that she is in love with the program but eventually realizes that it is incapable of true emotion and what she finds so attractive is the attention to her needs that the program provides.

  • Intentionally hiding things from people who're trying to help you is rarely a good idea
    – Valorum
    Feb 24, 2022 at 20:19
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! Please do tell us all the details you can; you never know what will help people remember the story. You can hide spoilers by starting a line with ">!" Also, when and where did you read this?
    – DavidW
    Feb 24, 2022 at 20:19
  • I thought I saw a very similar question a few days ago but I can't find it. Did you by any chance ask it on a different SO forum?
    – Mohirl
    Feb 25, 2022 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


Desert Rain by Mark L. Van Name and Pat Murphy. I read it in Full Spectrum 3 edited by Lou Aronica, but you probably read it in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois.

The sculptor is Teresa and the sculpture she is creating is:

With her eyes still shut, Teresa shook her head. The music was not right; it was not even close. She wasn’t sure anymore exactly how the composition should sound, but she knew this was not it. The piece sounded too mechanical, too predictable. In her proposal, she had promised the Santa Fe Arts Commission a sculpture that conveyed the essence of water, the rush and flow of it—a waterless fountain for a desert town. She wanted music that would remind people of rain drumming on a tin roof or the roar of a breaking wave. Instead, she had the hum of trucks on the freeway.

The AI was indeed created by Teresa's husband Jeff and Teresa calls it Ian:

or as long as Teresa had known Jeff, he had been working on the development of what he called “the system,” some kind of computer program that could run a household.


“All I have to do now is define the personality,” he said. “I thought maybe you’d want to help. You could design the face, choose the voice, stuff like that.”


She frowned at the screen. “I’ve got to name it? Don’t you already have a name for it?” She glanced at Jeff.

He shrugged. “Some of the guys on the team call it HIAN, short for Home Information and Appliance Network.”

“HIAN?” Teresa shook her head. “No sense of poetry, those computer boys.” She thought for a moment and then said, “How about Ian? That has a nice sound.” She typed it in.

However you have remembered the wrong poem. The scene with the poem is:

She closed her eyes, listening to his voice. “Tell me a story,” she said. “That’d be nice. I’ve always loved being read to. Maybe a poem—read me a poem.” She smiled, her eyes still closed. She felt happy and a little reckless. “There’s a poem by Carl Sandburg—I remember reading it in college, when I first learned that he wrote about more than just the fog coming in on little cat’s feet. I remember the line—’then forget everything that you know about love for it’s a summer tan and a winter wind-burn…’” She let the words trail off, forgetting the rest.

Ian picked up where she left off. “ ‘… and it comes as weather comes and you can’t change it: it comes like your face came to you, like your legs and the way you walk, talk, hold your head and hands—and nothing can be done about it…’ “ He continued, his voice a soothing rumble, like distant thunder when she was warm at home. “ ‘How comes the first sign of love? In a chill, in a personal sweat, in a you-and-me, us, us two, in a couple of answers, an amethyst haze on the horizon…’” She listened to his voice, speaking the broken rhythms of Sandburg’s song of love, and she felt warm and cared for. She fell asleep to the sound of his voice.

  • Thank very much, this is it! The poem is indeed Honey and Salt, but a different part than I remembered is quoted in the story. This is how I first learned that Carl Sandburg "wrote about more than just the fog coming in on little cat’s feet". I remembered the poem and the story because of Valentine's Day... Feb 27, 2022 at 7:05

Could it be "Project Empathy" by Dominica Phetteplace?

From this review:

The main plotline is how Bel adapts to San Francisco, and by the time she learns about her watcher chip, her transition is complete. Bel has a lot of attitudes that make her less sympathetic (e.g. trying to humiliate Berto by asking where he's from) but most of the time her heart is in the right place, and we're rooting for her.

Another thread of the story is simply figuring out who and what the Watcher is. As first-person narrator AIs go, this is one of the better ones because he's clearly a slave to his programming. He has no desires of his own, he's not "violating his programming" or anything. He's serving Blue Cup and Bel--in that order.

I haven't found a review quote mentioning she is a sculptor, but this story kept popping up with searches like "science fiction" sculptor Berkeley "ai assistant"

  • Thank you for the suggestion, but no. It is quite realistic - as if it is happening in the present day. The only science fiction element is the sophistication of the program her husband is able to create. Feb 24, 2022 at 20:28

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