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.