He’s not necessarily interested in how human beings interact with one another (a few of his stories contain romantic subplots, and they are noticeably less compelling than anything else he writes). Instead, he focuses on how human beings interact with and are shaped by their technologies ...
Reading through Exhalation, I really wanted to love it as much as I did that first book. I kept embarking on each story, hoping it would be "that one" - the Story of Your Life of this collection. None of these stories however come near its level of intricacy of content and form.
[Derek] subscribes to Blue Gamma's philosophy of AI design: experience is the best teacher, so rather than trying to program an AI with what you want it to know, sell ones capable of learning and have your customers teach them. To get customers, to put in that kind of effort, everything about the digient has to be appealing: their personalities need to be charming, which the developers were working on, and their avatars need to be cute, which is where Derek comes in. But he can't simply give the digients enormous eyes and short noses. if they look like cartoons, no one will take them seriously. Conversely, if they look too much like real animals, their facial expressions and ability to speak become disconcerting. It's a delicate balancing act, and he has spent countless hours watching reference footage of baby animals, but he's managed to design hybrid faces that are endearing but not exaggeratedly so.
... this is not what she envisioned for herself when she went to college, and for a moment she wonders how it has come to this. As a girl she dreamed of following Fossey and Goodall to Africa; by the time she got out of grad school, there were so few apes her best option was to work in a zoo; now she's looking at a job as a trainer of virtual pets. In her career trajectory you can see the diminution of the natural world, writ large.
Many of the other employees have been through company collapses before, so while they're unhappy, for them this is just another episode of life in the software industry. For Ana, however, Blue Gamma's folding reminds her of the closure of the zoo, which was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of her life. Her eyes still tear up when she thinks about the last time she saw her apes, wishing she could explain to them why they wouldn't see her again, hoping they could adapt to their new homes. When she decided to retrain for the software industry, she was glad he'd never have to face another such farewell in her new line of work. Now here she is, against all expectation, confronted with a strangely reminiscent situation.