the Little Red Reviewer

dipping into Made to Order, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Posted on: September 1, 2020

 

I’ve been dipping my toes into Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan.   The cover led me to believe this is all robot stories, but what I found was more a spectrum of cyborg, to disembodied AIs, to actual robots.  As with all anthologies, some stories are forgettable, and some shine like supernovas.

 

I’ve not read everything in the antho yet, and maybe I never will.

 

But here are some stories that have already made an impression on me.

 

The Hurt Pattern, by Tochi Onyebuchi – What is this doing in a fiction anthology? Other than the “connect yourself to your computer at work, and then literally unplug”, the rest of this sure doesn’t feel like fiction.  To pay off his student loans, Kenny gets a job sorting data. Obvs, his job is more complicated than that, but he’s good at the work, and he makes friends. He makes some dangerous connections involving why certain cities are more violent than others, and how the uptick in violence is connected to, well, that’s spoiler territory. This story gonna make you mad.

 

Brother Rifle, by Daryl Gregory – A Marine suffering from PTSD alongside his traumatic brain injury. He doesn’t understand how this therapy is supposed to work, and worse, he feels like he is imposing on his family.  How exactly, is this implant supposed to safely let him start feeling emotions again? What’s the deal with the patterns on the cards? What’s the difference between a robot and someone who lost all emotion through a brain injury and now has no power of attorney over their own self? Story is a bit of a slow burn, that kind where you think you know where it’s going, and then that last scene hits you like a ton of bricks. Lots in this story hit close to home for me – how mental illness and PTSD is handled, how we expect people to magically get better after a few months of therapy. If i read this again, i’m gonna cry.

 

Bigger Fish, by Sarah Pinsker – quite the comfort read, which was sorely needed. A private detective is hired to investigate the death of a “gazillionaire water tycoon”. The man was home alone, with only his personal robots. This was a nostalgic Asimov-esque I Robot style story – obviously the robots killed the guy, but how to prove it, when a robot can’t harm a person? When you’re ready for a unicorn chaser, read this story.

 

A Guide for Working Breeds, by Vina Jae-Min Prasad –  super cute story, told entirely through online messages between two robots who become friends through a mentorship program.  They have drastically different personalities, so it’s super adorable when the “killer” starts buying gifts  for the young upstart. Sometimes even a teacher can learn a thing or two. This story is the perfect one to open the anthology – it is bright, optimistic, and laugh out loud adorable.  Maybe it’s because one of the ‘bots mentions dogs right at the beginning, That i couldn’t help but view both of these characters as robotic dogs, the young one as a cheerful, floppy eared puppy, and the older one one as a grizzled guard dog.

 

Fairy Tales for Robots by Sofia Samatar – just an absolutely beautiful story. As the protagonist spends one entire night telling fairy tales to her sleeping robot, she realizes how much fairy tales maybe do belong to robots, what with all the sleeping without dying, and the constant drudgery, and the ability to eat something poisonous and not die, and the oddities of how fairy tales allow characters to do superhuman things. We learn a few things about the narrator, how she sees herself compared to how the world sees her. And why shouldn’t robot children be told stories about impossible things? This story  is buried in the back of the anthology. My advice is that you read it first.

 

I like this idea of there being a spectrum between human and robot. Does a pacemaker make you a cyborg? What if you have a steel pin in your leg? How about an artificial limb, or a wheelchair that moves based on your brain waves?

 

Based on the cover art, I was worried this anthology was going to be “Robot Adventures!”, luckily, it isn’t. It’s mostly about humans who are on the cusp of something, and choosing to deal with those feelings, or suppress them.

3 Responses to "dipping into Made to Order, edited by Jonathan Strahan"

this is sitting on my shelves and I’m looking forward reading it. Thanks for your headsup.

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When you get to it, let me know which stories you ended up enjoying! 🙂

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It will take a while. There is the Book of Dragons anthology before it, Dozois’s Very Best of the Best, and an Ellison Collection. I guess to start end of the year.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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