Posts tagged ‘Robots’

SP4RX

SP4RX.jpgTitle: SP4RX
Author/Illustrator: Wren McDonald
ISBN: 9781910620120
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Nobrow Ltd., c2016.

“Well the thing is, STEVE, they’re literally removing people’s brains and replacing them with manufactured ones —”
“That’s where you’re wrong, DANA, it’s the same brain, just altered for efficiency.”
“And what? That makes it ethically sound?? These impoverished low-level people are now being forced to work 36 hour shifts for God’s sake! And they are supposed to take ELPIS PROGRAM as a blessing?!”
“Dana, Look. Do you know how much these workers can make in a 36 hour shift? ELPIS gives them the means to provide for their fam-”
“PLEASE! Is that what you tell yourself[…]?!” (27)

In an unspecified dystopian future, SP4RX is a Bitnite, a hacker for hire. He doesn’t ask questions, only delivers the goods, until another hacker named Mega steals the program he heisted. It leads him to meet with a small resistance force with the self-assigned mission to stop a corporation implanting people with upgrades that allow them to be controlled remotely. Initially opposed to joining them, SP4RX realizes that their way might be the only way to maintain the slim direction over his own destiny.

Reminiscent of Fifth Element meets the Matrix, with maybe a little bit of Futurama and Dr. Who’s daleks thrown in for good measure, it’s not uncommon in this world for people to have cybernetic enhancements, communication takes place in person as often as in the virtual world, and the word “eliminate” has replaced “exterminate”. The art work is done in black, white, gray and purple, with the story segmented by full page graphics that feel like filler, or chapter or volume dividers, even though they aren’t labeled as such. A distracting feature is that characters are drawn sometimes with noses and sometimes without with little consistency as to which or why one way is chosen over the other. The story feels like a generic end of the world mashup, with little in the way of a back story explaining how they got to this point. By the end of the book, I was most interested in the minor character of the OBD droid, whose bodyless head steals every scene it’s in, as its implanted empathy drives the dogged search and loyalty it shows for SP4RX. Give that little guy its own series next time, and leave the rest to become more efficient.

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Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

Alex + Ada

Series: Alex + Ada
Volumes 1, 2, and 3
Story by: Jonathan Luna and Sarah Veughn
ISBN: 9781632150066 (vol. 1), 9781632151957 (vol. 2), 9781632154040 (vol. 3)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Originally published in single magazine form by Image Comics, c2015

You might think about getting one.”
“Me? An android?”
“Sure. You could always put her in the basement when you find someone.”
“Do you know how sick that sounds? It might as well be a dungeon.”
“Kinky.”
“Grandma… I appreciate the idea. But, no– even if I had the money– I don’t want an android girlfriend. It’s just… weird.” […]
“Grandma, what were you thinking?
“‘Thank you’ would suffice.”
“When I gave you a spare key, it was for emergencies only! It is not okay for you to sneak into my house and drop off a robot! How did you even get it here?” (unpaged)

Alex is getting over a break-up and is tired of everyone offering him advice, from his coworkers to his friends. So when his grandmother sends him an artificially intelligent, realistic looking android, he is less than happy. Especially amidst speculation that the security features keeping them from being sentient are possibly malfunctioning. But Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to the robot named Ada, and pursuing those possibilities might lead him into deep trouble.

The premise reminded me of a more militarized version of the movie Bicentennial Man, and could definitely spark discussion about the current state of artificial intelligence, technological advances, and the ubiquitous nature of surveillance and information gathering. Different viewpoints are presented, and while obviously readers are meant to side with the main characters, both sides have valid arguments and neither one is victimized or demonized. For instance:

“Daniel would have so much potential if he was unlocked. He’d have a life.”
“But it would put him in danger.”
“Is it really all just about the danger.” […]
“I like the way things are. It was why I got Daniel in the first place. I didn’t want complications. But if he’s not sentient, then I don’t see an issue. What harm is there in keeping him as he is now?”
“It would be wrong to keep him locked just because he doesn’t know there’s more for him.”
“Or is it wrong to unlock him when the world isn’t prepared for it?”
“Plenty of people have done important things in history when the world wasn’t ready.” (Volume 2, unpaged)

I was admiring the ability of the artist to keep Ada straight-lipped throughout the series (since I’m assuming her robotic origins would limit mobility) but then realized that every character is drawn in that same manner. The pacing provided by wordless panels enhances the story, as it forces readers to consider reactions before they happen, slow down in the reading, and really look for the incremental differences in facial expressions and body language that provide cues of the character’s intentions and thoughts. While the predictable plot is enjoyable, it also prevents the series from standing out among the cliche of sentient robot stories.

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