REVIEW SUMMARY: This is one nice coffee table book that any science fiction fan would love to have.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A man with no memory wakes on a world dominated by robot warriors and realizes his memories hold the key to save the dwindling remnants of the human and sentient beast population.
PROS: Fantastic artwork; attention-getting premise; top-notch production value.
CONS: Clunky dialogue in places.
BOTTOM LINE: Very good world-building and stunning visuals made this a fun reading experience.
The idea for the illustrated adventure Robota germinated when artist Doug Chiang was young. He had the recurring vision of spaceships hovering over the oceans and a couple of tall ships. The combination of technology and the old world vessels captivated him and gave birth to an equally captivating world.
The back story goes like this: Imagine that way back when, the fourth planet from our own sun named Orpheus, where human life originally evolved. Orpheus was visited by the benevolent species known as the Olm, who warned of Orpheus’ impending collision with Earth. The Olm gave the pre-industrial humans advanced technology to save themselves but the humans, being human, used the technology to kill on another. Eventually, Orpheus did collide with Earth, its fragments eventually coalescing to form Earth’s moon and its survivors finding a new life on Earth.
That background is a cool one. The story that is told in Robota, though, takes place on Orpheus some indeterminate time before the collision. Humans have built robot servants who eventually gained independence and a dislike for humanity. Now, the human population on Orpheus is dwindling, prey to the robot hunters of their own creation who themselves harbor a secret or three. Robota tells of Caps, a human who awakens with a fragmented memory. Caps is immediately thrust into adventure as he is pursued by robot hunters. He learns that animals, as a result of past technology granted by the Olm, can talk. Eventually Caps teams up with a smart-mouth monkey-creature named Rend, a giant ape-like beast name Joulm, a human female named Beryl and a renegade robot named Elyseo-Set. Together they set out to destroy Font-Prime, the leader of the robots, as the pieces of Caps’ memory fall into place and the fate of humanity (not to mention the other organic beings) on Orpheus hangs in the balance.
The first thing that caught my eye with Robota was the stunning visuals. Doug Chiang’s artwork is just awesome. The images really go along way in bringing the story to life. He served as design director for Star Wars episodes I and II and the imagination he showed there carries over nicely here. Even batter: Chiang’s kick-ass website for the book shows off his skills with a couple of super-slick trailers that really capture the flavor of the book. The book, by the way, is wonderfully produced with nice, thick pages and a sturdy, hardback cover that shows off the artwork quite nicely.
The story background and idea is all well and good, but what about the writing? While the story itself was a good one filled with plot twists (some predictable, most not) and nice world-building, the prose fell a little short of my expectations. I’ve enjoyed the Orson Scott Card books I’ve read but I kept thinking throughout this story that the dialogue was a little too clunky for normal conversation. (I’m assuming, of course, that Card is responsible for all the prose. Being the writer of this artist/writer pair, I think that’s a fair assumption. But, I could be wrong.) On the bright side, the story moved along at a breakneck pace and the wonders to be found on Orpheus are stuffed with the sense of wonder that I like. And, like I said, the artwork really helps bring the story to life.
Overall, this is one nice coffee table book that any science fiction fan would love to have.