Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen #review

Title: I Heart Robot
Author: Suzanne van Rooyen
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC, 2014

I’ll be upfront and say that I’ve never really been a fan of stories where one of the viewpoint characters is some sort of artificial intelligence. My rationale has always been that the author faces incredible challenges in order to express a non-human sentience in such a way that it would feel authentic. Yet I’m happy to report that not only has Suzanne van Rooyen done a great job with her androids, but she kept me turning the pages.

I Heart Robot takes place in the distant future in the Scandinavian city of Baldur, during an era that tips its hat strongly at Philip K Dick’s universe, yet without the crushing despair one encounters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. At its core, I Heart Robot is essentially a sweet romance meets technological thriller.

Tyri is a young, musically gifted woman who is torn between the sensible career path her mother and society expects of her, and her love for making music. Quinn is an android who has fled his abusive owners and is trying to make something of himself – by proving that he can pass for human. Playing as a solo violinist for symphony is just one of his dreams. And yes, we are presented with non-biological lifeforms that make us question where pre-programmed responses stop and individual agency takes over. Can androids even feel genuine emotion?

Though the music causes Tyri and Quinn’s paths to cross, there are greater forces at play as well. Growing social unrest results in tensions between human and robotic lifeforms, and Van Rooyen forces readers to ask: what makes a lifeform real? At the end of the day, only the building blocks differ. Whether a stew of blood, bone and hormone, or metal, cruor and synthetic skin – Van Rooyen’s characters are painted as vital and alive in their own sense of self.

While I Heart Robot may come across as a near-typical young adult SF read (yes, with an expected love triangle), Van Rooyen’s voice is lyrical and her world is populated with vibrant characters and a joyous sense of wonder. Even better, she does not shy away from adding a bit of grit to her narrative, sometimes in the most unexpected places. Bad things happen, and ordinary people are forced to act under extraordinary circumstances, resulting in a read that doesn’t quite go where you’d expect it to. Which is a good thing, if you ask me.

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