2014; 345 pages. Full Title : Robots Like Blue – Freedom Has A Price. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Science Fiction; Visionary. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
It’s the 22nd century, and robots are just starting to be household items. The major marketer of these is Enorpa Robotics, and while there’s nothing wrong with their robots, they nevertheless lack a certain je ne sais quoi.
Harrowgate & Webster Robotics is the newcomer to the field, and their aim is to take some of the market-share away from Enorpa. They may be lacking in resources and cash-flow, but what they have going for them (they hope) is vastly superior robot programming. Their machines are programmed to respond in a more humanlike manner to questions and commands, and their programs will evaluate, and self-modify, based on the interaction with humans. Harrowgate & Webster are counting on the customers liking this “warmth”.
The first prototypes of H&W’s new Gen-5 line of robots have just been shipped on a trial basis, and Lucy Walker is one of the few select recipients. She is recently widowed, with two small kids, so having a machine to help with the chores is a godsend. Lucy’s kids quickly dub the new robot “Robbie”, and the reader gets to follow Robbie as he learns the mystifying and complicated ways of humans. It seems likely that, once the trial period is over, Lucy will sign a contract and purchase Robbie on a permanent basis.
Just be sure you read the small print in that contract, Lucy. You never know what rights you’ve just given away.
What’s To Like...
The primary theme of Robots Like Blue, at least for the first half of the book, is: Can a robot ever become human? This is a surprisingly tricky question, since it must first be determined what makes something human. H. Beam Piper explored this in Little Fuzzy (reviewed here), albeit in terms of “When is a species sufficiently sentient to where we communicate with them instead of killing/eating them?” And Peter Cave offers a lighthearted overview in his excellent book: Can A Robot Be Human (reviewed here).
Anthony J. Deeney gives a realistic take on the subject; you’ll find no I, Robot or Terminator nightmare here. But you will see the Turing Test being applied, meet Schrodinger’s cat, and find that Robbie has synesthesia.
The writing is straightforward, but not weak. Some robots get recycled, and you may feel a tinge of remorse when this happens. There are some chuckles when Robbie takes some human phrases literally, and I really wished there’d been more of these. The book is written in “British”, which I always like.
There’s not a lot of world-building, given that the story is set in England a century in the future. But I think that was just a literary device to set the premise for household robots. The ending felt rushed, didn’t resolve all the issues, and left most of the characters in the lurch. This might be to set up a sequel, but it any case it felt quite anti-climactic.
“Robot, are you self aware?”
Robot spent several milliseconds considering the question and then said, “Does it matter?”
Barbara responded. “It seemed to matter to our owners, Claire and Leo. They said that it would trouble them if I was self aware and had the status of a slave. Do you think that we are self aware?”
“Have you asked the Alpha?”
“He said the question was ‘human’, and has no meaning for us. He said it was not dissimilar to asking if we like the colour blue.” (loc. 1173)
“Ms Lydon, I recognise that in your experience as a counsellor, your argument would appear to carry some weight.”
He looked up from his notes and smiled.
Claire smiled back, “Thank you, I have been a counsellor for fifteen years.”
“You will, of course, be aware of the theory of Solipsism.”
“Yes, I am. Solipsism, the idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. It is, of course, nonsense! One wonders why a solipsist would bother trying to persuade other, possibly non-existent, entities that they possibly don’t exist.” (loc. 3688)
Robots Like Blue currently sells for $2.99 at Amazon, although I’ve seen it offered for free a couple times already. ANAICT, this is Anthony J. Deeney’s only e-book available thus far.
“What if your creator is evil? Would it be ‘wrong’ to defy him then?” (loc. 5181)
The first half of Robots Like Blue was great, but then it seemed to lose its focus, and the overriding issue of “can a robot can be self-aware” gave way to “do humans have souls”. There was a lot more telling than showing in the second half, including two cases of extended banter – one in the courtroom, the other in a bar.
The dialogues also took on an air of preachiness, touching on subjects like original sin and fallen angels. It didn’t get overbearing, but it did distract from the basic theme of robots and their inner nature. It would’ve been better to tie up more of the storyline threads and stay on topic.
Still, RLB was a worthwhile read, and it was nice to see a plausible look at how robots might be utilized in another hundred years or so.
7 Stars. Add 1 star if it doesn’t bother you that a book’s theme shifts right in the middle of its storyline.