REVIEW SUMMARY: A well-written robot story of substance.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Avey the robot becomes more human while humans verge on becoming posthuman.
PROS: Sympathetic protagonist; interesting blend of old tropes and new; portrayal of mankind’s darker side adds depth; perfect amount of humor.
CONS: I was expecting more from the “robot uprising” aspect.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.
Sue Lange’s novella, We, Robots, refreshingly takes one of science fiction’s oldest tropes – the robot – and exposes it to one of science fictions newest: posthumanism.
Humanity is on the verge of the Singularity, ready to shed its temporary shell of meat and transcend to a higher state. But before that can happen, there are some things that need tidying up. In this case, mankind wants assurance that their ubiquitous robotic creations will not one day turn on their creators. Thus, all robots receive a “security upgrade”: a brand new receptor that enables them to feel pain. With pain comes fear and humans aim to use this fear to keep the robots in line. We, Robots tells the story of Avey, a friendly robot who was purchased to play nursemaid and protector of the young Angelina. Avey receives his upgrade and experiences both pain and fear. Avey and all his fellow robots also learn anger and contemplate revolution when they realize how they have been exploited by humans. The central conflict in the novel is whether the robots, who have become more human, will deny mankind its transcendence to a state of being less human.
It always seemed to me that stories with a robot protagonist are most successful when that character is sympathetic. We, Robots (the title an obvious nod to Isaac Asimov) has such a character in Avey, who narrates the story. Avey is not humanoid; he’s more like a cutesy Jetsons-type robot. Avey is a levitating, egg-shaped (often unintentionally wisecracking) model that exists only to serve, at least until his upgrade. It’s hard to not like Avey. He has and unending desire to help and is in some ways like a helpless child. By endearing Avey to the reader, we sympathize with his plight. Perhaps too much; I expected more from the “robot uprising” aspect of the story – specifically, the moment when all the robots emotionally realize that they will eventually be replaced. A very minor nit, but there it is.
Having Avey become human through the upgrade puts a welcome spin on the robot-wants-to-be-human trope that has been done to death. Avey’s humanity – for better or worse – is a gift instead of something he earned. But the trope here is still effective at doing something that science fiction does best: it uses its “far-out” plot as a mirror on society in which we see the injustice perpetuated by our own kind. We see what it means to be human through an outsider’s eyes. Oddly, Avey appreciates being human more than humans do.
All this adds extra depth to the story that makes it more than standard fare. We, Robots is highly recommended.