REVIEW SUMMARY: Compelling and insightful post-apocalyptic tale told from a unique perspective. Clever storytelling, tight prose, and a solid noir tone make for an enjoyable read.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Robot is sad because everyone is dead, including Mike and Sally and their kids, Mike, Jr. and his kid sister, Marie. Robot tells stories about Mike and his family, how they loved him and how he loved them. Someday, if he’s lucky, Robot might have a family again.
PROS: Sad Robot Stories is a brilliant retelling of the classic post-apocalyptic tale. A lone hero and a small band of survivors must traverse the wastes in search of salvation. They just happen to be robots. Mason Johnson explores his mechanical creations’ existential doubt and uncertainty and through their trials and ordeals, the reader is treated to clever examinations of human nature, belief, faith, will, and love. The book begins with an extended flashback to set the stage, and not one drop of ink goes to waste. Johnson builds his world for us through scenes showing Robot’s interactions with his workmates, employers, and surrogate family (Mike, Sally, and children). The prose is focused and spare of ornament that might otherwise distract from the pervading sense of gloom. But this isn’t a gloom that drags the reader down with it. Johnson has succeeded in writing a truly heart-breaking story, and has done so in such a way that you can’t help but crack a grin with every page you turn.
CONS: The one quibbling point I have with Sad Robot Stories is the occasional use of profanity. I’m not averse to it by any measure. Neither does it show up in any great amount. Yet, when four-letter words do appear, they seem to interrupt the narrator’s voice. There’s such a strong sense of sadness throughout the book. The few times that emotionally charged language does show up felt out of place.
BOTTOM LINE: Sad Robot Stories is a must read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. I’d also suggest it for anyone with an eye for clever storytelling and non-canonical characterization. The story excels in style, invention, and pacing. Johnson deserves praise for sheer originality and also for how far he goes in examining humanity through the eyes of our would-be successors.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Contemporary era thriller with a preference for over-dramatized responses to tense and dire situations. Good for a quick read if you like that sort of thing, but not for readers looking for characters to sympathize with or prose to remember.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mike Mitchell has a problem. His wife is struggling to fit her old-money roots alongside Mike’s blue-collar foundations, and his career plan isn’t shaping up to help matters much. Also, the power is out, the water is off, it’s New York’s worst blizzard since the Ice Age, and the entire city is about to find itself up the Hudson River without so much as a folded paper sailboat.
PROS: Cyberstorm is rich with tension and peril; there’s no trouble sympathizing with New Yorkers trying to survive in the midst of a massive systems failure during one of the worst snowstorms on record; national and international response to the crisis feels authentic and believable; pacing is spot-on with breaks in the action and detours into subplots blended seamlessly with the main narrative.
CONS: The characters in Cyberstorm were dull and half-formed, serving only to be placeholders; other than Mike, everyone else seemed to wait in the wings for their moment and otherwise lingered around so Mike had someone to talk to or look at; women, in particular, got very short shrift in this story; Mather overdoes the gore and amplifies people’s responses to desperation; the conclusion was also a complete let-down.
BOTTOM LINE: As a thriller-adventure story, Cyberstorm will appeal to readers of mainstream contemporary thrillers. With warnings aplenty about what might happen if we’re not careful, Cyberstorm has the pacing, action, technical details, and political intrigue to satisfy readers looking for a story that hints at dangers in our modern computer- and information-dependent landscape. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction escape into the realms of possibility with memorable characters and exciting prose, look elsewhere.