October 28, 2016
A Review by Chris Fried
This collection of twelve short stories about robots and how they’ve gained sentience through artificial intelligence. The author examines how this development changes the world in personal ways as well how this affects the world. From the story of one family’s loss to how the world thoughtlessly uses cyborgs like tools and more, this anthology has some terrific stories in store for you. With an introduction by Nick Cole that is reflective and provides scary commentary upon our society, here are short synopses of each tale, starting with:
“Darkly Cries the Digital” – When Tommy, a ten-year-old boy, almost dies, his father, Devon, spares no expense to revive his son. Devon digitizes his son’s brain, transforming it into an artificial intelligence and placing it in a robot body that is an exact duplicate of his son. So why does this haunted simulacrum of a “child” hear voices?
“Carnival of Robots and Roses” – When Masanori Nishimora, the father of the modern android, dies, the city of New Orleans comes out to mourn his death by observing his funeral procession. Demetrius, a young boy looks at it in amazement, as it’s filled with wondrous sights while also commemorating the death of a great inventor. But this parade also holds sadness as well as secrets…
“Empathy Box” – A female android is murdered and her husband, also an android, is the most likely subject. Detective Harden, a human, must investigate. But when the Nishimora-Dynamo representative gets involved, the case moves into unexplainable directions and a surprising conclusion at what Harden finds.
“Jimmy Dugan is Chasing Spiders” – Jimmy is having problems with his left eye, but doesn’t want to go to his mandated appointment with his doctor. You see, he doesn’t want to reveal to the doctor that he’s seeing things, creepy crawly things, that he thinks are out to get him. So, how will he reconcile what he sees with the reality he lives in?
“Last Train to Mecca” – Skylar is a humanoid traveling by train, looking forward to the journey and what he finds at the end of it and meets Gerald, an old man. As they talk about memories, the situation suddenly spirals out of control and both are pushed beyond their known limits, leading to a stunning and shocking ending.
“Abigail’s New Face” – Abigail is a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to get plastic surgery to look more like a robot. But her father, a widower, makes a limited income but still wants to give his only child everything she wants in life. Working as a janitor in the Dynamo Robotics factory, he gets caught up in a situation but will he successfully extricate himself from it before it’s too late?
“This Year’s Model” – Andrea is an android working in a showroom that sells them to humans. Run by “Uncle” Jake, she clearly means a lot to him. But when the International Consortium of Ethical Machines makes a surprise announcement, Andrea’s world is thrown into turmoil and everything she’s ever known will be changed forever. How will she handle the struggles that come next?
“The Magnolia Killer” – Jeremy is a fighter who frequents an area of town where humans fight against robots in clubs, though he would never fight a robot himself. But when a group of six people challenges him on the sidewalk, it leads to an enlightening talk with the last person he ever expected to meet.
“Charm Bracelet” – Elijah is a cyborg, having died and been brought back to life on numerous occasions, but not remembering his past. Created for battle, his purpose is to fight so that conflict between nations can be resolved without human loss of life! So, what happens when he starts to remember fragments of his past life? This was one of the most exciting tales in this collection as well as the most emotional for me.
“Queen of Heaven” – She experiences the full onslaught of the world through her multitude of senses. But what exactly is she, anyway?
“Factory Setting” – Deb is slowly wasting away in a nursing home while suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her son, thinking she needs attention and unwilling to give it, buys her a top-of-the-line android to keep her company all the time. Then, they inadvertently embark on the adventure of Deb’s life! That was an unusual tale, in that it was really heartbreaking and very poignant for me. It was also one of my favorites.
“Cicada Seventeen” – Eight-year-old Ethan and his twin sister Elena live in a trailer home with their grandmother in West Texas. Their lives filled with poverty and tragedy, one day Ethan meets a creepy android in an ice-cream truck. But how is all this connected to some strange occurrences going on their area?
I liked the way this all took place in one central universe, tied together by the Nishimora-Dynamo androids, their history, and their evolution emotionally as well as legally. Each story highlights their deep impact on society and how it’s transformed by their presence in all sorts of unexpected ways large and small, using them for maximum effect.
It’s not just their impact on humanity, either. We get stories told by humans who encounter them and stories from the android’s point of view as well. Each one carries a deep emotional heft to it, whether it be from an android going bad to getting an upgrade to an emotional chip, to using them to keep children from dying or using them to prevent humans from dying in conflict.
Each story also is mesmerizing in not only setting the stage, whether it’s for a battle or for the Southern Gothic mood, but for the characters that populate them. They were all evocative and provoked deep feelings, from tragic and sad to terrified and angry, enveloping me in this universe profoundly as it wove its web with each tale. But the author also uses each setting to tell a unique story within its environment. No two stories in this volume are alike, which only increases my praise for being able to pull off such feats of imagination throughout the entire collection.
Underneath some of these stories, there are also little bits of satire and amusement to be found. The author uses them to skewer society and demonstrates how it has devolved in many ways which allow for the rise of robotics in this universe, to begin with, using quiet, potent storytelling as well as some offbeat humor.
There is also a section at the end of the book about the origin and inspiration of each story, which provided valuable insight and made me appreciate each one that much more. Overall, I found this thoughtful collection to be filled with perceptive looks at humanity using innovative ideas while also providing a strong reflection of society through the eyes of an android.
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