Book Review: A Robot in the Garden, Deborah Install (2016)

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Johnny Five is alive!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss/NetGalley.)

Amy curled her lip. “Ben, it’s a robot, it doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t care where it is or how broken it is. And this talk about you teaching it…you can’t even get it to talk properly. Wouldn’t you be better off doing something more productive?”

“Funny, ain’t it, the way we apply human qualities to these machines? People can get real attached to them. We have a cemetery just down the road for folks who’ve lost their androids.”

Thirty-four-year-old Ben Chambers is in a bit of a rut. By which I mean a gaping, stretching chasm from which escape seems impossible. His parents died six years ago – adventurous adrenaline junkies in their retirement, they perished when the light aircraft they were flying hit a bird and crashed – and Ben’s been struggling with grief and depression ever since.

After their deaths, his studies faltered, and he was asked to take a leave of absence from the veterinary program he was enrolled in. Luckily, his parents left Ben his childhood home and a large chunk of money to live on; but this only enabled his chronic unemployment and general aimlessness. His wife Amy, a successful attorney, is understandably fed up; Ben doesn’t even try to pull his own weight in the form of household chores. Tang is just the straw that broke their marriage’s back.

When a beaten-up robot suddenly appears in their back garden one September morning, Ben fixates on him. (Ben is certain he’s a He, even if robots don’t have genders as such.) He’s convinced that “acrid Tang” – “Tang” for short – is special and in need of saving. Among the bolts and rivets and squat boxes that make up Tang’s body, Ben finds a broken cylinder, slowly but surely leaking fluid, in Tang’s chest – right about where his heart would be. Armed just with a few partial inscriptions on Tang’s undercarriage, Ben resolves to find Tang’s creator before the cylinder runs dry and Tang stops working.

(More below the fold…)