Made to Order: Robots and Revolution – various

“Robot: a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.”

Robots and automatons are a staple of science fiction, but in the age of AI, internet, and virtual reality, it’s nice to get an updated take (or several) on the sub-genre.

My only complaint about this collection is that sci-fi (and fantasy) is a difficult genre to do justice to in short story format. There’s not enough space for world building, so the writers have to either take shortcuts – use a familiar-ish kind of setting – or as sadly too often happens here, leave the reader a little frustrated with the brevity of the whole thing. But hey: wanting more isn’t the worst complaint! šŸ™‚

My favourite of the lot is Peter Hamilton’sĀ Sonnie’s Union, in which humans can pilot fearsome biomech units – a bit Avatar, a bit Real Steel, all brought together perfectly. I was amused by what I assume is an in-joke, having the baddy a Welshman called Alastair (Reynolds?) šŸ˜‰ I also very much liked Fairy Tales for Robots, which briefly looks at a dozen familiar stories and points out the ‘robot-ness’ of them.

There’s a huge variety of approaches taken across the sixteen tales. From the light-hearted ice-skating robot, to the extremely dark, including mistreated child robots, the horror of video surveillance from the watcher’s point of view, and even a take on religion – wasn’t entirely sure about that last one, tbh, might skirt a little close to … something ‘hmm’.

Different tales are told from the robot/AI’s POV, or a human’s, and there’s even a second-person POV that feels like a video game, with a very dark twist.

Overall, it’s a fun and intriguing mix. As I said, perhaps a little frustrating to only get little slivers of the better stories, and if I’m being honest not many really jumped out and wowed me, but still a decent collection and worth dipping into.

Collection curated by Jonathan Strahan, containing:

  • A Glossary of Radicalization – Brooke Bolander
  • Dancing with Death – John Chu
  • Brother Rifle – Daryl Gregory
  • Sonnie’s Union – Peter F Hamilton
  • The Endless – Saad Z Hossain
  • An Elephant Never Forgets – Rich Larson
  • Idols – Ken Liu
  • Sin Eater – Ian R MacLeod
  • The Translator – Annalee Newitz
  • The Hurt Pattern – Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Chiaroscuro in Red – Suzanne Palmer
  • Bigger Fish – Sarah Pinkster
  • A Guide for Working Breeds – Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • Polished Performance – Alastair Reynolds
  • Fairy Tales for Robots – Sofia Samatar
  • Test 4 Echo – Peter Watts

NetGalley eARC: 273 pages / 16 short stories
First published: 2020
Series: none
Read from 22nd February – 15th March 2020

My rating: 7/10

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